Today I went with a group of co-workers to volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House of San Diego. Our job was to cook and serve dinner to more than 100 people, so that they could “relax” and have a hot meal at the end of the day.
These families have one thing in common: They all have a child in the hospital being treated for a serious, often life-threatening illness. I can’t pretend to understand what they are going through, but I’m truly glad that I was able to offer a little help.
We spent about four hours at the Cafeteria. Started with cleaning the floor and setting up tables, went on to prepare food (short ribs, mashed potatoes, salad, drinks and cup cakes), and then served dinner to people waiting in line. Many kids were there at the dinner, and a few grandparents too. Some children, organized by a volunteer apparently, performed “Snow White” that was quite entertaining. It brought laughter from the otherwise quiet crowd.
Last step was to clean up and make the kitchen ready for breakfast tomorrow. The kitchen does have a few full-time staff – serving three meals a day isn’t trivial – but its daily operation depends largely on volunteering and donations. One of my co-workers asked what happens if they run out of donated food and grocery, and Chef K.C. replied that they would have to tap into their main budget to purchase only essential stuff and offer “low-cost” meals.
We also took a brief tour of the facility. Without knowing how a charity like this works, I was able to see how people’s generous donations were put into good use. Many families are stretched financially caring for children in medical crisis, so a place like the McDonald’s House that provides housing and meals would be a huge relief. Not only that, the San Diego charity is right across the street from the patients’ building. Parents can walk over in just a few minutes, and when they take a much needed break, they can be reached quickly if something happens. One of the two TV rooms has a window facing the kids rooms. When we were told that sometimes the very young children could see their parents through the window, realizing that they weren’t far away, I had to try hard to hold back my tears.
Another thing I learned was that although McDonald Corporation and local restaurants provide a steady source of funding, the vast majority of the San Diego charity’s annual budget come from individuals, foundations and other businesses. The event we just organized today was one example. Also, remember those little boxes at McDonald’s restaurants that people can drop their spare changes in? I’ll forever look at them differently now. Last year alone, those donation boxes collected nearly $25 million that will be distributed to individual McDonald Houses worldwide.