Ray and Joan Kroc, founders of McDonald’s, had always been big supporters of The Salvation Army. They also believed that families – and particularly children – in underserved communities should have the opportunity to participate in the arts, recreation and other enriching experiences so that their sights might be set upon success beyond their own limited lives. So, the Krocs donated $100 million to the Salvation Army in San Diego where the first Kroc Center was born.
In addition to the arts, culinary facilities, and plain old fun recreation, the Krocs hoped future Olympians would rise up from the impoverished community and train at their center.
The concept was such a success that, upon her death in 2004, Joan Kroc made the largest gift to a nonprofit ever made in the U.S.: $1.5 billion. With that money, the Salvation Army was charged with an important mission: to build 30 Kroc Centers around the country in underserved neighborhoods. However, the neighborhoods themselves also had to have a little skin in the game.
They had to raise 25% of the cost to build their Kroc Center!
Joan and Ray Kroc frequently vacationed along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. One day in 2002, prior to Hurricane Katrina, Joan spontaneously visited a police station in Biloxi and asked the police chief to take her to one of the poorest, most underserved areas. He took her to East Biloxi. Shortly after that visit, she gave $2 million to the community to build a pool and gymnasium. It was enough to get the plans rolling but not quite enough to build the center. Still, dreams were growing.
And then Mrs. Kroc died and East Biloxi made plans to raise 25% of the cost to build their own Kroc Center.
And then Katrina hit.
The Salvation Army knew that the East Biloxi community would never be able to raise funds to build the center, but that – perhaps more than any other community in the nation – they needed the center. So, The Salvation Army gave East Biloxi the funds to build their entire Kroc Center.
That center just opened on September 19, 2011.
Meghan Calhoun, Public Relations and Membership Director for the Biloxi Kroc Center, says that parents often say that, because they can be healthier by utilizing the Center’s resources, they feel more able to provide a healthy lifestyle for their children.
PLAYTIME worked with the Biloxi Kroc Center planners to create a soft-foam water slide in the shape of a shrimp! The slide honors the shrimping industry that has been so critical for that region’s economy.
Calhoun says that the indoor water slide is a hit with toddlers and their moms who want to provide safe water experiences to build their kids’ pool confidence.
PLAYTIME was honored to be a part of this incredible story.