When 8-year-old Alexandria was admitted to Children’s Mercy Hospital with severe burns, her mom spent the night with her while her dad stayed at a seedy motel.
There was no room for the Atchison, Kan., family at the Ronald McDonald House across the street.
“We had to wait three days,” said Tiffany Best, Alexandria’s mom. “A room finally opened up and it’s been absolutely amazing. You get to sleep in a real bed and take a real shower and eat a real dinner. I obviously don’t want to leave my daughter’s side, but as a parent you’re no good to them if you’re tired and hungry. Ronald McDonald House has provided a sanctuary.”
A sanctuary with a waiting list. The charitable service turns away about 1,000 families a year because the two Ronald McDonald houses on Cherry Street are constantly full.
“I cannot stand it,” said executive director Holly Buckendahl. “It’s incredibly difficult to say no.”
To remedy that, officials today are announcing plans to build a third Ronald McDonald House, on a Cherry Street lot where two run-down tenements were razed.
The charity has raised about $3.7 million in private funds for the $4.5 million project. Proceeds from a special Chiefs Red Friday magazine being sold for $2 today on street corners and at area McDonald’s restaurants will go toward the project.
The new 21,000-square-foot house is expected to open next September with 20 bedrooms. The house at 2501 Cherry St., which opened in 1988, has 19 rooms. The one across the street in Longfellow Park, which opened in 2006, has 41 rooms. There is also a family center within Children’s Mercy with seven small bedrooms.
Families stay for different lengths of time, but the current average is nine days. Buckendahl said the new house should accommodate 900 to 1,100 families a year, virtually eliminating the waiting list.
The number of families needing a place to stay has increased in the last year with the addition of 72 beds at Children’s Mercy, which provides 93 percent of referrals to the Ronald McDonald House.
“The Ronald McDonald House program is absolutely vital to our families,” said Jo Stueve, executive vice president and co-chief operating officer of the hospital.
Lodging at the Ronald McDonald House is free, but families are asked to contribute $10 a night if they are able. More than 50 percent do. The houses provide Wi-Fi, toiletries and laundry supplies. The food pantries are stocked, and volunteer groups prepare meals every evening.
All that is a godsend for families with critically ill children, many from out of town.
“That’s a huge expense on families that need a place to stay at a time when they are not at their job, they’re exhausting their sick leave and who knows what kind of medical bills they’ll face,” Buckendahl said.
Best, whose daughter was accidentally burned with boiling water, said she is so grateful for the Ronald McDonald House that she plans to volunteer there after Alexandria is well.
“I can’t wait until they get that third house up,” Best said. “It just breaks my heart knowing they have to turn families away.”