FILE IMAGE: JOAN KROC
Lenny Ignelzi  /  AP file
Joan Kroc, shown in 1998, died at 75 in October after a brief bout with brain cancer.
updated 1/20/2004 3:57:02 PM ET 2004-01-20T20:57:02

The Salvation Army announced Tuesday that it is receiving the largest gift ever given to a charity — a donation likely to exceed $1.5 billion from the estate of Joan B. Kroc, widow of the founder of McDonald’s Corp.

Salvation Army officials say the exact size of the gift won’t be known until administration of Kroc’s estate is complete, which could take several months.

The gift is for development of community centers across the country, similar to the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center that opened in San Diego in June 2002. The Kroc center offers educational, recreational and cultural arts programs.

“We are obviously thrilled, but genuinely humbled by the exceptional generosity of Joan Kroc,” said W. Todd Bassett, national commander of The Salvation Army.

“We recognize the deep sense of trust she has placed into our hands with this gift,” he said. “Mrs. Kroc was a wonderful friend of The Salvation Army and we miss her. Her passion for children and families, and her hope for community peace will live on forever through this incredible gift.”

Gift largest ever to charitable group
Kroc’s gift is the largest ever to a charitable organization, and ranks ninth overall in terms of gifts to nonprofit organizations. The largest ever was Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates’ $6 billion donation to his own group, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Kroc, the widow of McDonald’s restaurant founder Ray Kroc, was known for giving away hundreds of millions to promote world peace, education, health care and the arts. She died Oct. 12 and bequeathed $200 million to National Public Radio and $50 million apiece to peace institutes at the universities of Notre Dame and San Diego that bear her name. Other organizations and charities received lesser amounts.

Bassett said the donation to his organization specifies that half of the money be for construction of the new centers and the other half be placed in an endowment with the earnings used as income to partially support the centers’ operations.

Still, the charity will have to raise an additional $40 to $60 million per year to support the centers’ entire operating costs, Bassett said.

None of the gift is to be used for existing programs, services or administrative costs.

“She wanted to make a real impact, especially on low-income families,” Bassett said.

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