Andrew Jones, a fourth-year student at Red Deer College, chops up some peppers to help prepare a meal at the Red Deer Ronald McDonald House through the Home for Dinner program Thursday. (Photo by SEAN MCINTOSH/Advocate staff)

Andrew Jones, a fourth-year student at Red Deer College, chops up some peppers to help prepare a meal at the Red Deer Ronald McDonald House through the Home for Dinner program Thursday. (Photo by SEAN MCINTOSH/Advocate staff)

Volunteers put comfort food on the menu at Red Deer’s Ronald McDonald House

Volunteers sought to help provide daily meals at Red Deer’s Ronald McDonald House

Since Red Deer’s Ronald McDonald House opened 10 years ago, a dedicated group of volunteers have served up the very definition of comfort food through the Home for Dinner program.

“It’s a really, really hands-on volunteer experience,” said Suzanne Pescod, director of marketing and communications for Ronald McDonald House Charities Alberta. Ronald McDonald House provides a temporary home for families with children who are getting medical treatment.

“Not only do volunteers make the meals for families, but often times they sit down and enjoy a meal,” said Pescod. “They talk to families. They got to know their stories,” said Pescod.

Unfortunately, the pandemic, and the health restrictions that followed, meant volunteers could no longer come to Ronald McDonald House to prepare meals for two years. Instead, donations were used to buy dinners prepared in commercial kitchens and restaurants for delivery.

Now that restrictions have lifted, volunteer cooking teams are once again welcome.

Red Deer Ronald McDonald House general manager Lori Rechlo said they have enough volunteers to cover meals about three days a week and more help would be welcomed.

“We’d love to get it back to seven days a week,” said Rechlo.

“It was a huge program prior to COVID. It was a one-month waiting list (for volunteers).”

Cooking teams came from all over. Some were family groups, others came from churches or local service clubs. Many had a specific day each month that they would prepare food for 15 to 20 people.

Casseroles, soups, chili and tacos were all popular choices. Teams of four to eight people are ideal to have meals ready for 5:30 p.m. each day.

Susan Haggas and her family are very grateful for the meals they had while daughter Meghan was being treated for high-risk leukemia in Calgary’s Children’s Hospital. Over the last 2 1/2 years there have been many stays at the Calgary Ronald McDonald House.

“It was our home away from home. It was a really cozy place for us,” she said.

The meals were deeply appreciated by her family as Meghan, who is now in remission, received her treatments.

Susan is now volunteering at Red Deer’s Ronald McDonald House, working at reception, making breakfasts and cookies. But she hopes to do even more cooking.

“Our whole family would love to come in and cook. It would be great.”

For those who would like to help others, volunteering to make meals means so much to families staying at Ronald McDonald House, she said.

“We really appreciate when people come in and cook. You don’t feel so alone. You feel like someone cares. It’s nice.”

Pescod hears often how important the program has been for families.

“Families are coming from these different locations, all around the province, often times in emergency situations. They’re under incredible stress already.

“Then, they’re often not in their home communities. They’re not going leave bedside to go grocery shopping to make meals and keep themselves sustained while they’re also dealing with this medical situation.

“Home for Dinner is a massive time saver, a huge financial saver for families and a piece of comfort after spending 14 hours at the hospital. It just smells like home when you’ve got this big meal cooking in the kitchen.”

“A lot of groups take inspiration from their own families. So, they are offering cooking those comfort meals that they have at home.”

“They are very conscience that it’s a kid’s atmosphere so sometimes they are bringing in fun desserts and making sundaes.”

For more information on how to volunteer for Home for Dinner go to rmhcalberta.org.