University City: Ronald McDonald House Offers Homey Environment for Ailing Families

Outside the house on Chestnut Street Ronald McDonald himself waves to welcome families.

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It would take a second glance through the gates of the building to recognize the familiar face of Ronald McDonald. Located at 3925 Chestnut St. in University City, the arch above this building’s gate reads, “Ronald McDonald House.” Part of this 1800s mansion has been transformed by modern renovations into a home away from home for families who have children suffering from cancer or other diseases that keep them in a hospital.

Outside the house on Chestnut Street Ronald McDonald himself waves to welcome families.

“We provide a room for them while they need it,” McDonald House Special Events and Communications Manager Jennifer Shipman said. “It’s basically just creating this community of comfort and hope for the families. There is no medical treatment here it’s more of just the support of services.”

The Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House is the original house of now over 300 similar locations across the world. It was founded in 1974 as a partnership between the Philadelphia Eagles and the McDonald’s fast-food chain.

The Philadelphia Eagles used the Shamrock Shake at McDonald’s to raise money. They gave all the money earned from that fundraiser to Dr. Audrey Evans. Evans, a pediatric oncologist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, used the proceeds from this partnership fundraiser to open the very first home originally on Spruce Street.

Now, funds are raised through the national charity fund, local fundraising and donors. About ten percent of the operating budget for these facilities comes from the Ronald McDonald Fund. Over 90 percent of the funding comes from individual and corporate donors.

The money that is placed in donation boxes at McDonald’s goes to the national charity fund where those funds  get dispersed to all the Ronald McDonald Houses across the world. The rest of the budget comes from fundraising which happens year round in order to provide enough funding to maintain the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House.

The house on Chestnut Street is one of three programs operated by the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald Organization. This organization has a home on Front and Erie Streets which can house 18 families. The organization also hosts two rooms at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia on the oncology and cardiology floors.

The third part of what the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald Organization offers is the Ronald McDonald summer camp. It is a one-week overnight camp for sick children and their siblings to experience what summer camp is like. Since they cannot attend a regular camp, the Ronald McDonald Summer Camp in the Poconos  gives them the opportunity they normally would not have.

In the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia the Ronald McDonald House hosts a family room which provides a relaxing living space for families to grab a cup of coffee and watch a movie. They even hold Zumba and yoga classes so the families have a change of pace. Even families who are not staying at the Ronald McDonald House can enjoy the amenities provided by the Foundation.

The house in Philadelphia, which moved from Spruce St. to its current location, can house 45 families.

To reserve a room a family must live over 25 miles outside the city, according to the Ronald McDonald website. Children of families seeking services at the McDonald House must be 21 years old or younger and in active treatment at a local hospital. The Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House is available to families whose children are receiving services at any hospital in the city including the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, St. Luke’s Hospital, St. Christopher’s and Temple University Hospital.

Ben and Sophie were only the first of six children the Enberg family adopted from the Ukraine. Photo courtesy of Ronald McDonald House.

The Enberg family is just one family who has relied on the Ronald McDonald House. According to the website, the Enbergs have two children with special needs that required care outside of their home state of Minnesota. While their children received care at Shriner’s Hospital for Children, they stayed at the House.

It costs $85 a night to support a family in the home but the Foundation asks only for a $15 donation. Many of the families have their fee reduced or waived because they cannot even afford $15 a night for themselves. This typically is the case because families are financially devastated from the cost of medical care and hospital bills.

The Ronald McDonald House never turns anyone away despite these difficulties. The House provides home cooked meals prepared by volunteers and free transportation to the respective hospital. The House also has a full time social worker on staff for support. One goal of this service is to be an escape from the sterile hospital setting and all that is attached to having a child who is sick.

Mapp checked paperwork for a family staying in the house.

“A place like this for families is a resource and it helps them realize they are not alone,” Ashley Mapp, weekend manager said. “Mealtime is so important here especially when you have been at the hospital all day long and you really don’t even think to eat. Its really a time for families to connect.”

Many long-term friendships are made while at the house. Since families come from over 45 different states there are many differences in background and much diversity. Not every family is going through the same exact thing but they all experience the grieving process, which comes with dealing with terminal illnesses.

The house on Chestnut Street has a staff of 18 but the lifeblood of the organization is the over 300 volunteers who dedicate their time to helping run the house, cook meals, keep up the house, drive the shuttles to and from the hospital and so much more. Manager Jennifer Shipman said that without the volunteers there would be no Ronald McDonald House.




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