We were introduced to our first Ronald McDonald House in London, Ontario on our final All-Access Trip.  With 12 Ronald McDonald Houses across Canada, 309 around the globe and plans for 2 more in Canada located in Red Deer and St John’s, the scope of this charity is huge.

I was embarrassed that I only knew a few things to begin – like 10 cents from every Happy Meal goes to the charity, and that families stay there when their child is ill and hospitalized.  The amount I didn’t know, and had trouble imagining, was what changed my perspective on life more than anything else in the McDonald’s All-Access Moms Program.  Meeting real people in crisis is a powerful thing.   People with real stories, pain, and incredible strength.  I hope that my involvement with the charity is limited to volunteering, and I pray that I will never be one of the 10,000 Canadian families per year who become residents in one of the houses.

Just imagine being a parent of a child with leukemia when your spouse has to stay at home working. Imagine being a 4-year-old sibling of a sick child who doesn’t understand why Christmas isn’t happening this year like normal.  Imagine being a Mother who spends every waking moment at a hospital with no time to cook or do laundry.  The doctor’s visits when there is bad news, or when there is good news and hope.  Imagine just for a second and then push it out of your mind.  Ronald McDonald House exists in order to give families the gift of time.  As Margaret, the executive director at the Ronald McDonald House in London uttered: “We can’t buy the children time, but we can give it away.”  The gift of preparing hot meals, dealing with Christmas shopping, laundry and expenses can allow families to spend precious time together as a unit.

Here’s what I didn’t know:

1.  The first Ronald McDonald House opened in Philadelphia in 1974.

2.  New initiatives for the charity include Ronald McDonald Family Rooms in hospitals and Ronald McDonald Care Mobiles which may be used to travel to inner cities or remote areas where there are limited resources.  The 40 x 8 feet mobile vehicles are specially designed to deliver pediatric health care services, where children need it most.

3.  McDonalds underwrites the salaries and all expenses of Ronald McDonald House Charities Canada employees so that 100 percent of dollars raised go back to the Houses.  This is very rare.

4.  The (Canadian) federal and (Ontario) provincial governments have supported the Houses through capital funding as well. Recently, the Infrastructure Stimulus Funding program parceled out over 22 million to renovate and increase the number of rooms in the Toronto, Hamilton and London facilities.

5.  The family dinner program is a crucial component of daily life for families using the Houses.  Individuals from the community are able to sign up to donate food, time and cooking skills to make a dinner for the House. The value to families is immense.  After a long day at the hospital, parents and siblings get a home cooked meal that they don’t have to prepare or fund.  And volunteers can see the immediate impact of their efforts as they dine with the grateful families.

6.  Although it’s not completely free to stay, thanks to the support of their sponsors, Ronald McDonald House families pay on average only $11 per day though no family is ever turned away due to an inability to pay.

7.  Despite the increase in beds and space for families with children in hospitals, the Ronald McDonald House in London in particular has an occupancy rate of 86 per cent.  Wow!

8.  $37 million has been raised since 2004 from Happy Meals alone.  That’s ten cents at a time.  You can do the math.  I’m kind of inept with decimals…

9.  Spaces in the London House include: 5 computers with internet access, a toddler playroom, children’s library, play space for 6-12 year-olds, teenage room, fitness centre and a home theatre room. The different areas and nooks within the house allow families privacy and encourage them to live their lives as normally as possible.  The respect for the individuals is immense.  Families have their own locked cupboards in the kitchen in case the kids will only eat nutella or mac and cheese.  Tupperware and bags are readily on-hand if families would prefer to eat later or take their dinner back to the hospital. My favourite place was the treasure chest.  This room is very special and has a magical effect on the children that stay at the House.  But I can’t say anymore…I’ve been sworn to secrecy by the pirates.

10.  There is a section in many Houses, just as welcoming as the other rooms, where families whose children are immune-compromised can stay, in order to further prevent the spread of germs to these children.

I used to volunteer for many organizations and since having had kids I have struggled to incorporate charity into my life.  I have now found a place I can put down roots and show the kids what it means both for us and families in need to help.  Whether we cook a meal, take unwrapped toys to help siblings adjust to their temporary surroundings, donate some Tupperware containers or teach a tap dance class in the House to help release some stress.  I want to incorporate this charity into my life with my kids.  I keep thinking more creatively about how I can use my unique talents to help – donating time and talents are just as valuable as contributing money.  I took my boys to our local Ronald McDonald House yesterday to deliver toys.  They met many children and played, hugged and laughed.  For many, I think the friendship was a more powerful gift than the toys.

You can find the other All-Access Mom blogs on the Cityline Microsite.

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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