Dressed as Santa, Adrian Peterson surprises 420 children with gifts at Minneapolis shelter

Ad Pro Test Clip 141 - March 2017 (2:09)

Ad Pro Test Clip 141 - March 2017 (2:09)

MINNEAPOLIS -- In the midst of preparing for the holidays and caring for the couple's two young children, Adrian Peterson's wife, Ashley, added an unusual task to her to-do list earlier this month: finding a Santa Claus suit big enough for the NFL's leading rusher.

The Petersons were in the process of making arrangements for their event Tuesday, where the Minnesota Vikings running back surprised more than 400 children with Christmas gifts at Mary's Place Transitional Shelter in Minneapolis. Adrian and Ashley Peterson planned to dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus, and Adrian Peterson had already purchased a Santa suit from the time he dressed up in 2013 at a team Bible-study Christmas party, but that one had gone missing.

Sixty dollars and a shopping trip later, the problem was solved.

"He's very tall and buff, but the fact those suits are so big, it's not too hard to find something that fits him," she said.

The Petersons decided to buy, not rent, the suit, because they plan to turn what they did Tuesday into a yearly event. They showed up at the housing center in the shadow of Target Field with gift bags, sorted by gender and age group, for 420 children living at Mary's Place. Many of the families are immigrants from Somalia or transplants who'd left Chicago after the recent waves of violence there. Plenty of the children Peterson met didn't know who was behind the beard, or realize they were talking to the 2012 NFL MVP.

"I love to see smiles on kids' faces, especially when you have kids that are less fortunate," Peterson said. "When Christmastime comes around, they don't know what to expect. They don't think they're getting anything. So to surprise kids, and see the smiles on their faces, and to be able to bless people, that's what it's all about."

Adrian and Ashley Peterson decided about two weeks ago they wanted to give Christmas presents to a shelter in the Twin Cities. They reached out to Calvin Simmons -- the Petersons' pastor with National Athletic Pastoral Care, who officiated the couple's wedding ceremony in July 2014 -- and Simmons and his wife, Shareese, told the Petersons about Mary's Place.

"We turned around the next day and got on it -- immediately starting ordering toys, letting people know what was going on and working with Mary's Place to make sure we had the correct number of children and all the details down," Ashley Peterson said. "It's a lot of work, but it's very much worth it."

Peterson absorbed heavy nationwide scrutiny last year after he was indicted for injuring his 4-year-old son in an act of corporal punishment, and the running back's All Day Foundation went on hiatus when several charities it supported were questioned over their affiliation with Peterson. Even as public support for the running back dried up, Peterson kept doing philanthropic work away from the spotlight, continuing his support of the AAU girls' basketball team in Austin, Texas, and, he says, helping 22 kids go to college last year.

"It's funny, because this is something I always do," he said. "I always do things to give back to the community and those that are less fortunate. You take away last year, this would be something I'd still be putting on."

The Santa suit, it seems, isn't going away.

"This is definitely something we want to do yearly with the foundation," Ashley Peterson said. "Christmas is my favorite holiday, so I want to make sure that, as many kids as we can help to have the best Christmas ever, I want to help those children."