MINNEAPOLIS — The hefty belly and bushy beard were fake, but the big heart and smiles were real.
Dressed in a full Santa suit, complete with spectacles and black boots, Adrian Peterson was joined by family members as they brightened the holidays for more than 400 children at Mary's Place, which provides transitional housing downtown.
Adrian and his wife, Ashley, were connected with Mary's Place by their pastor Calvin Simmons and his wife, Shareese. The Petersons picked out toys, footballs and other gifts online and in stores and received great joy from delivering them.
"I feel like it went well. It was a success," Peterson said. "The most important thing, I saw a lot of smiles on the kids' faces, kids that were probably wondering, 'Am I going to get anything for Christmas this year?' It was good to fulfill that."
The Peterson family provided individual sacks of goodies for boys and girls, ages 6 to 18, with help from volunteers who bagged the items. Peterson gave out treats for the children, visiting with each individually and signing autographs. Rookie tackle T.J. Clemmings and running back Dominique Williams also attended the event.
Peterson had done other events in Minnesota around the holidays in years past and supported a toy drive in his hometown of Palestine, Texas, that was led by his mother.
That's what it's all about, being able to help those in need, being able to bring a smile to kids' faces and give them hope," Peterson said. "I thank God that I'm blessed to be in this position to be able to extend my hand to others."
Ashley Peterson enjoyed seeing her husband dress the seasonal part, but not as much as she appreciated seeing happiness in others.
"Christmas is my favorite time of year, and to be able to spread that joy to children that might otherwise not get it and to be able to have them have that happy feeling and know we put a smile on their faces means the world to us," Ashley said. "It's nice to give back in whatever capacity we can give back. It just fills your heart in a way you can't get when you receive. Being able to give and know you made someone's Christmas feels really good.
"We brought our kids, too," she added, "It's good for them to be able to see these things and see that other children are not quite as blessed as you all are so you need to have a giving heart and share that with everyone."
Mary's Place has provided relief in the Twin Cities for 31 years. Barb Copeland, daughter of founder Mary Copeland, said the children "really appreciated (the event) because it gives a lot of the kids, a lot of the families hope, and that's what Christmas is all about."
Mary's Place is a transitional home for families that could be recovering from a flood or fire, as well as families that are refugees.
"It's true transitioning, so they can get back on their feet and a place of their own," Barb Copeland said. "It's a place to rest their spirit and give them hope. This is really a place to start over."
Peterson said he thanks God to be blessed enough to help others at this time of year and beyond.
"That's what it's all about, being able to help those in need, being able to bring a smile to kids' faces and give them hope," Peterson said.