Started my 38th trip around the sun volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House with this group of amazing people!
These people are the real deal. Kind, smart, funny, and most of all, selfless. When I started talking about getting a group together to volunteer our time at the Ronald McDonald House here in Tampa as a way to celebrate my birthday, they all said “yes!” without a second thought. And yes… we made cupcakes… and YES I had one, of course. It was my birthday after all! 😉
I started volunteering at the Tampa location of the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) way back in once upon a time, time (1995) with my mom and some high school friends. Since then, we have returned as often as possible to cook a meal for the families staying at the house. The last 5 years I have visited the house almost monthly with my best girlfriends, blogger buddies, family, and my husband to give back.
From the website: What began as one family’s misfortune became good fortune for millions of families worldwide. In 1974, Kim Hill, the 3-year old daughter of Philadelphia Eagles tight end Fred Hill, was diagnosed with leukemia. During Kim’s three years of treatment, Fred and his wife Fran often camped out on hospital chairs and benches and ate makeshift meals out of vending machines. The Hills watched other parents around them doing the same thing. They learned that many of the families traveled great distances to bring their children to the hospital, but couldn’t afford hotel rooms. The Hills began to think that there had to be a solution. Fred rallied the support of his Eagles teammates to raise funds and help other families experiencing the same emotional and financial traumas as his own. Through Jim Murray, the Eagles’ general manager, the team offered its support to Dr. Audrey Evans, head of the pediatric oncology unit at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Evans dreamed of a home-like temporary residence for families of children being treated at her hospital. Together, they created the first Ronald McDonald House. That first Ronald McDonald House opened in Philadelphia in 1974. By 1979, ten more Houses had opened. By 1984, McDonald’s restaurants and local communities founded 60 more Houses; then 53 more opened by 1989. Today, there are 286 Ronald McDonald Houses in 35 countries around the world.
Ronald McDonald House provides a “home-away-from-home” for families with children receiving medical treatment in area hospitals. Between the houses in both Tampa and St. Pete, 80 bedrooms with private baths are offered to families whose children are receiving treatment away from home for days, months or even longer, for little to no cost. The Ronald McDonald House offers families a way to continue to be together, even when far from home. The Houses are all located near local hospitals; most within walking distance. Each house offers home cooked meals, private bedrooms, computer rooms, play areas, laundry rooms, and indoor/outdoor areas for watching television, relaxing or reading. The Ronald McDonald House runs solely on donations and volunteers. Although families are asked to donate toward their stay, they are never turned away for the inability to do so.
There are so many ways to volunteer at RMH. They’re always looking for house volunteers, including people willing to help prepare home cooked meals at their kitchen. Here’s how it works (for the Tampa location of the RMH):
- Visit Take Them A Meal.
- In the center of the page you’ll see a section labeled “FIND”. Type “tampa” where it says recipient last name, and “meal” where it says password.
- Once you are logged in you will see directions for preparing or donating a meal at the Tampa location of the house (directions for other Tampa Bay RMH locations can be found here.)
- Once you have reviewed the directions, scroll down and you will see a list of available dates to provide meals and which dates are already booked. When you find a date that fits your schedule, click “Take”, then fill in the form. You don’t need to know what you are cooking in advanced and can put “TBD” when asked about the meal. You are required to cook the entire meal at the RMH kitchen and cannot prepare anything at home in advanced. The only exception is if you choose to donate pre-made items purchased at a grocery store or catered from a restaurant (like rotisserie chickens). You will receive a confirmation email when you book a date, and the day before you are scheduled to be at the house.
- Once you have booked a date, now it’s time to recruit a group to help! Because you will be preparing a home-cooked meal for 20-25 guests that are staying at the RMH, you can bring up to 10 friends to help you. I usually create a Facebook event to recruit people to join me and to help stay organized. Volunteers must be 14+ and accompanied by an adult 21+.
- Volunteers are required to provide all the ingredients to create the meal. I typically will decide on what to make, and then post a “shopping list” in my Facebook event so that people can sign up to bring 2-3 items each as a donation. You can also choose to collect $ from each friend who is helping to cook then have 1 person do all of the shopping. The house receives MANY pasta/taco type of dishes, so if possible, think of something else to make. I can help you brainstorm some things we have made in the past that were a hit. The kitchen is fully stocked with seasonings, oils, eggs, milk, utensils, pans, dishes and other essential tools for meal prep. The kitchen is also equipped with two commercial sized refrigerators and freezers, two ovens, 2 stovetops, 2 dishwashers, and 2 deep sinks. Volunteers are also responsible for cleaning up after the meal is done.
- Dinner is typically served between 5pm-6pm, so dinner should be hot and ready to be served between then. Although the website says 6-6:30pm, I often find that families come a bit earlier to take food back to the hospital, so I typically aim for dinner to be ready to go by 5pm. There are crock pots available to keep things warm. I typically arrive between 2-3pm to begin cooking. Although not required, you are welcome to stay and help serve the families as they come through. Additionally, as you’re cooking, families who are staying at the house might stop by to smell what’s going on. This is a great time to get a chance to interact with them and see the appreciation they have for the hard work and time you’ve put in to prepping a home cooked meal for them. It’s an extremely rewarding experience!
Additional information: The house is located on Davis Island, at 35 Columbia Drive, right behind Tampa General Hospital. You can park anywhere you see a space designated “RMH permit parking” outside of the house. To enter, ring the doorbell and a volunteer will let you in. If this is your first visit to the house, the desk volunteer will give you a tour of the kitchen so that you know where everything is.