The 82-year-old Alton Thacker is no regular elderly man. He is something of a modern-day Santa Claus, owning his own toy factory, from which he manufactures and distributes toys to children all around the globe.
Tiny Tim’s Foundation For Kids explains its core vision on its website:
“What is the price of a smile? That is a question that Alton Thacker, the man who started Tiny Tim’s Foundation for Kids, often asks people when they wonder why he founded this charity in 1996. Tiny Tim’s Foundation for Kids is a non-profit organization built around the dream of bringing a smile to as many children’s faces as possible.
When a child plays with a toy, it sparks their imagination. They learn to think for themselves. They begin to explore the possibilities around them. Unfortunately, there are 500 million children around the world who have never had a toy; those children most likely never will have a toy. Tiny Tim’s Foundation for Kids believes that those 500 million children deserve a reason to smile.”
The work of Thacker’s toy factory is not limited to the festive season, as he is delivering hope and joy to children throughout the year.
“It’s a year-round Santa operation of the merriest kind,” said Thacker, as reported by PEOPLE. Over the years, Thacker’s toy factory and foundation has grown into a massive operation. Now, he gives away more than 85,000 cars a year to children from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, as well as serving needy kids at children’s hospitals and homeless shelters closer to home in his own community.
“Basically, we’ll give cars to anyone who wants them, especially if they’re going on an overseas trip and have room to tuck a few into their suitcases,” Thacker, a retired barber, told PEOPLE. “There’s nothing more rewarding than the reaction you get from handing a toy to a destitute child. It’s addicting.”
“I can pretty much run any of the equipment as Mrs. Claus,” said Thacker’s wife Cheryl. Adding:
“But the best part is sharing a little bit of Christmas spirit, year-round. Kids enjoy getting our cars in July just as much as they do in December. We’ve sent more than 60,000 of them to Zimbabwe through a group called Eyes for Zimbabwe to bring some joy to the lives of kids who have nothing.”
The pair also makes regular trips to bless impoverished communities in Mexico. They fill up a trailer some 10 times a year, packing it full with toys, clothing, school desks, wheelchairs and medical supplies and delivering them to the impoverished town of Casas Grandes.
“For too many kids, one of our little wooden cars is the only toy they’ll ever get,” Alton told PEOPLE. “That’s what keeps me going. I’m told that the need for toys around the world is more than 500 million. Can you imagine that? Five hundred million! So it looks like we’ve got a little work to do at Tiny Tim’s to keep up.”
Things haven’t always been easy for Thacker. At one point earlier this year he thought he might have to close the toy factor down, as it was becoming increasingly difficult to make ends meet financially. The foundation was hit hard when a key donor stopped giving.
“That’s the hardest part of a nonprofit,” he said, as reported by KSL. “You don’t mind asking for a few dollars, but $1,200 a month— that’s a lot. What do you say to come across gentle and kind when you’re asking a person for their money? I’ve learned you can ask for help and get a lot of help, but when you ask for money, that’s a different story.”
Thacker said he felt uncomfortable when his story was featured on a state TV station, as he did not want to appear as if he was “begging for money.” Then, when he woke up the next morning, something remarkable began to happen.
“The next day, every half hour I got a phone call,” Thacker said with a beaming smile. “My phone, I had to keep it plugged in or it would run out of juice.”
“I was in New York visiting my aunt when the story came, and my phone just went crazy,” said Thacker’s granddaughter Emilee Johnson, who helps Alton with the management of his website and donations. “Just all the emails, and it would ‘ding’ every time we got a donation from PayPal. For the next two days, it was constant.”