A community staple for 30 years, the Ronald McDonald House in Chapel Hill is a home away from home for families of seriously ill or injured children.
If a child's family lives farther than 35 miles away from UNC Children's Hospital and has an emergency, a serious disease, illness or a broken limb, the family can stay at the house, which opened in 1988.
Its work has been extensive, serving the people of Chapel Hill and giving students at UNC the chance to actively make a difference in their community.
“Students from the University are involved in a variety of different ways," said Haley Waxman, marketing and communications manager at the Ronald McDonald House. "The Alpha Delta Pi sorority at UNC, we are their philanthropy. They send a volunteer on a weekly basis, and then they also volunteer for some of our special events.”
Waxman said the house has all the comforts of a home, including private bedrooms and bathrooms, a communal kitchen, living rooms and play areas. The house is located approximately one mile from the hospital, allowing families staying there easy access to the children they're caring for.
Beyond the house itself, there is a family room at UNC Children's Hospital equipped with a kitchen and living room. This room is a place for families to get away from the clinical environment and recharge. Families who are visiting UNC Hospitals can use the room even if they are not staying at the Ronald McDonald House.
During the 2018 hurricane season, volunteers from Carolina Athletics placed sandbags outside the house to prevent flooding. Other student organizations such as The Marching Tar Heels and the Carolina for the Kids Foundation also regularly volunteer at the house and typically assist with meal preparation.
"The Marching Tar Heels, they've been an active group in the past," Waxman said. "They shop for all the ingredients that they want to cook. They bring them in, they prepare them, they serve them and they clean up."
The house provides meals for guests every weeknight in addition to brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Bryant Gilchrist, executive director at CTFK, said the meal program is still in its pilot phase because it is the first time funding is going towards the project, and the meal planners are looking for ways to provide healthier meals.
The project has helped build a stronger relationship between the community and the Ronald McDonald House, as well as the Carolina for the Kids Foundation. CTFK fundraises throughout the school year for families who visit UNC Children's Hospital.
"We also have the UNC Dance Marathon in March, and that can bring up to 1,000 students, if not more," Gilchrist said.
Gilchrist said because of CTFK's relationship with the Ronald McDonald Foundation, the organization has been able to host some of its meetings in the house. CTFK has also helped fund some of the rooms at the house.
"We raise money for the patients and families of UNC children and we pretty much help in any way insurance can't," Gilchrist said. "So maybe just paying bills that maybe they're struggling to pay because of the difficulty paying hospital bills, we might have a thing to sort out transportation or maybe finding a place to stay."
Gilchrist added that many students outside of CTFK come and volunteer by their own volition.
"I myself have done some meal serving and got to see firsthand how beneficial that is for some of these families," he said. "Of course they have a wonderful kitchen at the Ronald McDonald House that provides many ways and opportunities to cook, but sometimes finding the time to do that with all the other things you have to worry about, when you have a child in the hospital, us being able to go and do that for them really does show them that there are people there to support them and help them."
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.