Do you know about Ronald McDonald Houses? Yes, that Ronald McDonald. The one with the big shoes who advertises burgers and hash browns (that quite frankly are one of the greatest foodstuffs known to mankind). Did you know though that this staple of the high street is a corporate supporter of an independent charity who make a huge difference every day to families with children who are very sick. The chances are you don’t, and you are not alone.
I did know a bit about the houses, in as much as I knew they existed. I knew that there was a coin collection box on each counter in their restaurants and that we are encouraged to drop in our loose change. Something about families and houses near hospitals was all I really knew. So when I was invited recently by Helen from Actually Mummy to join her at this year’s Ronald McDonald House Charity Gala dinner to get a behind the scenes look at the work the charity actually do, I jumped at the chance.
Before going though I asked my friends on Facebook if they had any experience of the charity just so I might be a little more prepared on the night and I really didn’t expect the response I got. I was inundated. And if I am honest, it made me cry as I realised what families go through every day, and made me realise that I have been incredibly lucky to have three healthy children who have never had to have an extended stay in hospital.
We did have a scare with Ellie earlier this year, but our local hospital was able to treat her, meaning I was able to come home each night and visit her every day. How would I have done that if she had needed more specialist care miles away from home?
592 miles away from home?
According to the charity that is how far away from home one family had to be when their child was transferred from their home town in Aberdeen to specialists at Kings College Hospital in London.
Just think for a minute about the logistics of that. How, as a family, you deal with that. Where do you sleep? Shower? Wash your clothes? Spend time with siblings, or just as a family? Doable if you have to do it for an sudden overnight, but not so manageable when the care is ongoing.
For say, 828 nights. Yep. Two years. That is how long another family had to spend away from home, though the average is only 16 nights, it could be much longer.
For these families, and thousands of others the charity provides accommodation just moments away from specialist children’s hospitals all over the country.
Yep. Families are provided with a room that is there’s for a family member to get a good night’s sleep. And access to a shared space in the home to either chat to other families who understand what it is like to have a sick child, or to spend time together as a family. Siblings can come and visit and then stay and have tea in the dining room. Birthday parties can be held there. Heck we even heard of a wedding being arranged in one house in London recently.
These spaces are havens, safe places for families to be together, to be supported when they need it most.
Crucially, when the child in hospital needs it most too. When at 2am they suddenly need a hug the ward can phone the family’s bedroom and a family member can then be on their way to administer that hug in minutes.
This has to help a child’s recovery, knowing their family are so close by and can be there when needed, even in the middle of the night.
One of the people who replied to my Facebook is my lovely friend Kelly. Her and Simon had stayed in a Ronald McDonald House after their daughter Daisy was born at 26 weeks and five days.
This is the first family picture taken of the three of them, and here is what Kelly said:
Having a daughter unexpectedly at 26 weeks +5 days at our local hospital then being immediately transferred to St George’s Tooting was an immensely scary time for us but being miles away from home, family and friends made it a daunting lonely experience.
As soon as I walked into RM house and met Strini I didn’t feel lonely anymore and a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
I didn’t want to leave Daisy to drive miles home so was contemplating sleeping in the car or on the floor somewhere. RM house provided me with an oasis, somewhere I could shower, sleep, gather my thoughts and digest everything that was going on, cook a meal, talk to other families going through similar experiences as we where, which lead us to making life long friends during our stay. When my family came to visit they where made to feel welcome and the team became apart of our family. We have been back to visit a few times and I feel a strong bond with the house as it helped me through the hardest part of my life. We only stayed at RM for 2 weeks as Daisy was transferred back to our local hospital where she stayed for a further 3 months and even though we went home every day it didn’t have the same warm feeling as it did at RM – well that was until we brought Daisy home and it got very noisy!!
I had never heard of the charity until they where there to support me and my family. I will never forget what they did for us. We are eternal grateful and forever in their debt.
I wish there where more RM houses locally as I would love to give back by volunteering.
And this Daisy today. Daisy is now a big sister too, and still often pops back to the house with Kelly and Simon to say hello and thank them again for their support when Daisy was tiny
I forwarded this message to Emma at the charity ahead of the dinner so that Strini and the team could see what their hard work and dedication means to families. Emma arranged for me to then meet the team and to give them all the hugs that Kelly and Simon had insisted I deliver on their’s and Daisy’s behalf.
Many people have an opinion on McDonald’s and if I am honest alongside people saying that they didn’t know about the charity people were saying “wow, I have always avoided the restaurants but now I think I might have to go in”. Please do. Even if it is only to get a coffee, do it and put a few coins in the collection box on the counter. Over £3 million is raised every year by people doing this and, along side corporate donations from generous sponsors, families lives are being changed daily. But more families could be supported if more money was raised.
£15 could host a breakfast morning so that families can be together. £25 could look after one family for one night at a House. £100 could pay for toys in a playroom to help siblings of sick children adjust to their stay.
I will leave you with this picture.
Nothing remarkable about it at all really is there? The chap on the left had come over with Matt Dawson as we had said we would love to give him a hug as he was hosting the event and has been heavily involved with the charity since his own son had meningitis and he got to learn more about the Ronald McDonald Houses when they were at GOSH. “Can you take some pics with my phone, please?” I said as I threw my phone at him. I may not have even said please if I am honest.
Turns out that “chap on the left” is only THE Managing Director of McDonalds UK, Paul Pomroy.
You can’t take me anywhere.