What started as a Christmas display for friends and family eight years ago has grown into a way for the Acker family to support children and their families at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Willie Acker is the mastermind behind Willie’s Winter Wonderland at 404 North First St. in Wiggins and made sure it was a family affair when it began in 2014. There are numerous volunteers, including Chris Acker, who plays Santa Claus, and Anna Acker, who takes care of the logistics and fundraising.
“It takes a lot of people to make the light display a success,” Willie said.
The light event started as a display at the Acker family farm in Perkinston and it was meant to be just for fun with family and friends. Over time, friends and family invited other friends and family until the winter wonderland eventually outgrew the farm and had to be moved to the family business in Wiggins.
Now, there’s a huge array of light displays that range from hand-painted wood exhibits to modern LED light collections featuring a gingerbread village, some well-known and beloved Disney characters, and even Santa Claus and his reindeer.
Visitors can walk through and get up close and personal for photos with any of the displays and those car-bound folks can drive through and stop at their leisure to take in all of the characters and lights.
Organizers and volunteers frequently post on Willie’s Winter Wonderland social media page about how touched they are by each smiling face as they discover the magic of the season through Willie’s eyes.
“We started this event to remind people that the Christmas season is about bringing joy to others,” Willie continued. “What started as a small home display for a few has quickly evolved into something the entire town and beyond can enjoy.”
So why does the Acker family donate to St. Jude?
“Our family has been extremely blessed over the years,” he said. “Instead of receiving, we decided to give to an organization that at its core, believes in helping others. St. Jude has been a beacon of hope to millions of children and their families in some of their darkest hours and if our donations can shed a little light on any family’s darkest days, we want to be a part of it. Our family has walked through two cancer diagnoses, so St. Jude was an obvious choice for us because they offer treatment free of charge to children and their loved ones.”
As visitors walk through the displays, they will see QR codes that can be scanned with cell phones and will take them directly to the St. Jude website to leave a donation. Additionally, donations can be left in the locked box at the Willie’s Winter Wonderland exit.
“We have not met our goal but hope to between now and Dec. 31,” he said.
Click here for additional information about Willie’s Winter Wonderland.