Shovels are not in the ground, but fundraising has already begun for the Ronald McDonald House in Red Deer.
The recession can’t slow enthusiasm for the $12-million project that will provide low-cost accommodations for families with critically ill babies, sick children and high-risk pregnancies.
Larry Mathieson, executive director of Ronald McDonald Houses of Alberta, said typically his organization doesn’t raise a lot of money before the fundraising campaign begins. But as of October, $1.3 million has already come in for the Red Deer house and 18 community activities have been held, organized by everyone from elementary school children to service clubs.
“Some of the groups that are coming forward that do annual events are beating their records,” Mathieson said.
“There’s clearly going to be a lot of support in Red Deer for this project so we’re excited about that.”
The Chicago-based Ronald McDonald House Charities Global requires its chapters to have 80 per cent of capital funding before construction can begin.
About 25 per cent of the donations generally come from community fundraising, with the majority of money donated by corporations.
A $12-million fundraising campaign will pay for the land, construction, furnishings and programming for families for the first year. Ongoing donations will also be needed to support the $500,000 annual operational budget.
Mathieson said with the popularity of the house, to be built south of the hospital on 50A Avenue, work could start before next summer.
In early 2008, Ronald McDonald House Southern Alberta announced it wanted to build in Red Deer to assist families around Central Alberta receiving treatment at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre. The property was purchased and rezoned in the summer and headed to the City of Red Deer’s municipal planning commission this month where it was approved.
The three-storey house will have 11 family suites, each with their own bathroom. Two suites will be wheelchair accessible. An estimated 400 families annually are expected to stay at the Red Deer house.
“Initially we were conceiving the idea of a five-suite house. Study results came back that we should build twice that size. That was a bit of surprise and reconfirmed to us that Red Deer was the right place to build the next house,” Mathieson said.
Families will pay just $12 per night to use the house, with availability based on medical needs.
The Calgary house is generally used when children undergo bone marrow or cancer treatment and the Edmonton house is used when children need organ transplants or cardiac care.
The Red Deer house will be available to families who live outside Red Deer. The qualifying distance must still be determined in consultation with Alberta Health Services.
In 2007-08, about 23 per cent of the 3,800 children — newborns to 18 — admitted to the Red Deer hospital lived 51 km or further from Red Deer.
“About four per cent live 150 km away and for those families, unless they have extended families in Red Deer or know of friends, they face a challenge in terms of accommodations,” said Marc Leduc, Central Alberta network co-ordinator for child and youth with Alberta Health Services.
“Having a place where you don’t have to travel an hour or more each way to visit your kids, save the cost of a hotel room, is certainly a benefit.”
Leduc said family members in therapy with patients in the new child and adolescent mental health unit may also benefit. Children coming in for day surgery or early morning appointments or treatments may be able to stay at the house the night before.
“Having the Ronald McDonald House here in Red Deer with the capacity to provide low-cost accommodations will certainly make Red Deer better able to serve families as a regional centre.”