Ronald McDonald House stays busy

Central Alberta Ronald McDonald House is filling a growing need.

Central Alberta Ronald McDonald House is filling a growing need.

So far during its second year of operation, 312 families have stayed at Ronald McDonald House in Red Deer and there are still over two months left in the 2013-14 operational year.

After it opened on Feb. 26, 2012, a total of 212 families stayed at the house during its first year.

“It is a bustling house in terms of filling up and emptying,” Larry Mathieson, CEO of Ronald McDonald House for Southern Alberta and Central Alberta, said Thursday.

“The Red Deer house is a busier house in a lot of ways than the other houses in Alberta. Most of our stays on average are a little shorter than the other two houses so there is a lot of turnover.”

On Thursday, two families were living at the house after a number of recent checkouts. More families were expected to arrive in a few days.

During recent snow storms, a few families were forced to stay a little longer than expected.

“We have days where there are more families that need the rooms than there are rooms and there are other days you don’t have as many families that need you.”

The 11-suite Ronald McDonald House Central Alberta, located at 5002 39th St. near Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, opened to provide affordable accommodations for children and their families who live outside the city and are receiving treatment at the hospital.

Mathieson said the Red Deer house has also been quick to attract Red Deer families who drop in to use the day programs, to get a meal, shower, or just a break while their children are in hospital.

“When you’re at the hospital, you’re focused on your child or your baby. Coming out of that environment helps you to focus on rebuilding yourself.”

He said more than 70 per cent of families who live at the house are from Central Alberta. Some families from outside Central Alberta come to Red Deer for the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.

“Just last week we had a Calgary family.”

Volunteers have also been fast to help out at the Red Deer house.

Mathieson said it took a number of years for enough people to volunteer at the Calgary house to ensure there was a volunteer-cooked meal most days for families. But in Red Deer there’s already a dinner almost every night.

“Consistently more and more groups are coming out. That’s everything — that’s companies, that’s churches, that’s families.”

He hoped the goodwill extends through the Christmas season as donations have been down this year due to Albertans’ response to the spring flood in Southern Alberta.

“This year with the tragedy being so close to home for Albertans, it has impacted our fundraising in a much bigger way than a catastrophe in some place else in the world. I think it kind of took a lot of charities, including us, by surprise.”

Central Alberta Ronald McDonald House also needs help at this time of the year to try to make Christmas special for families at the house, he said.

“We really rely on those donations of goods and cash from the community so we’re thrilled the community continues to support us in that way.”