Since its founding by the Rev. Jim and Vera Dingman in 1954, Sunshine Acres has never been just a foster home. To many of the more than 1,600 children who have lived there, it is their extended family. Set on 100 acres on the outer edge of Mesa, Arizona, the community does no formal fundraising and relies on the generosity of neighbors and strangers alike.
This month, Sunshine Acres was in for a huge surprise. As part of Getting to the Heart of Christmas, Walmart and The TODAY Show teamed up to throw the biggest holiday celebration Sunshine Acres has ever seen.
Each house received a decorated tree and an overflowing shopping cart complete with bicycles, scooters, clothing, tablets, vacuums and, of course, a Disney “Frozen” puzzle.
As the staff and kids, ranging in age from 4 months to students attending college, lined up outside of their gymnasium, Walmart associates anxiously waited to open the doors to a Christmas wonderland. Cheering filled the gym once the doors opened and it became clear that they weren’t arriving for a holiday picture (which was our cover story). Wrapping paper flew through the air as the presents were opened and shared among the families.
Associates hiding behind a curtain on a 24-foot stage revealed basketball goals, trampolines, sheets, towels and other necessities on cue.
While we had a list and checked it twice, we knew there would be gifts and items that are needed in the future, so Walmart provided $5,000 in gift cards to Sunshine Acres plus a $150 card to each family. The happiness was palpable.
The future is bright for Sunshine Acres as they look forward to building up to 25 more houses for 250 additional children. I’m beyond thankful that we could be Santa for a day to benefit such a widely praised member of the Mesa community.
Take a look at the complete story from The TODAY Show.