In 1998, Mrs. Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, donated $90 million to The Salvation Army to build a comprehensive community center in San Diego, California. Her goal was to create a center, supported in part by the community, where children and families would be exposed to different people, activities and arts that would otherwise be beyond their reach. Completed in 2001, the center sits on 12 acres and offers a variety of family-friendly options for indoor and outdoor recreation, health and fitness, performing arts, after-school programs, and more.

When Mrs. Kroc passed away in October 2003, she left $1.5 billion – much of her estate – to The Salvation Army, by far the largest charitable gift ever given to the Army, and the largest single gift given to any single charity at one time.

The gift, which eventually grew to $1.8 billion, was split evenly among the four Army Territories – Central, East, South and West. Half of the money was designated to build a series of state-of-the-art Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Centers nationwide patterned after the San Diego center, and the other half formed endowments to supplement local fundraising for the centers’ ongoing operational costs.

No other U.S. charity has ever undertaken such a sweeping fundraising or construction effort with the potential to impact so many people. By late 2014, 26 Kroc Centers had opened and were serving well over 130,000 people each week, and growing.