At the Ronald McDonald House Charities International Conference late last week, the RMHC global organization awarded ten RMHC chapters from around the world with the prestigious “Hearts and Hands Award,” which is accompanied by a generous $20,000 grant to the winning chapters. RMHC of Central Ohio was honored for the Team Cuisine program, highlighting the McDonald’s food donation program. We’re honored to be recipients of this prestigious award for such a unique program considered to be a role model for RMHC chapters across the globe. What follows is the award-winning submission prepared by our team which explains how this innovative program works to help feed our families, save food resources, and save money:
What happens when you combine the heart of the Ronald McDonald House, the expertise of a world-class chef, generous volunteers from throughout the community, and an innovative opportunity to cut food waste and benefit families from our partners at McDonald’s? In Columbus, Ohio, we call it Team Cuisine – and it’s magical. From the beginnings of the Ronald McDonald House movement, providing stress relief for the families of seriously-ill children has been our goal. What better way to reduce stress than by providing excellent, healthy, delicious food for our guests at no cost to them?
Last year, our team learned that owner/operators of McDonald’s restaurants in the area could choose to freeze and preserve food that they could no longer serve for the purpose of donating it to eligible local charities. We saw this as the perfect opportunity to pair our expertise in hospitality with the food expertise of McDonald’s. Recent statistics show that over 30% of food in the U.S. goes to waste. We saw a chance to be a change-agent in regard to that statistic and created a pilot program to put that food to work for families at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. But before getting into that, let’s look at how the meal program grew at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House.
In 2014, our building expanded to a massive 137 guest room facility, able to accommodate hundreds of people each day. With that expansion, we collaborated with local commercial kitchen experts to build a new state-of-the-art volunteer kitchen that could serve families cafeteria-style. But something unique started to happen. We noticed meal options were limited, and our guests were eating very similar meals each day. We believed we could do better. So, our leadership put together a plan to improve the RMHC meal program. After piloting a program with two contracted chefs, and receiving tremendously positive feedback, we decided to hire a full-time chef. In order to accomplish this, this new program, Team Cuisine, would take the ingredient purchases out of the hands of the volunteers. Now, they could make a donation of $350 for breakfast or lunch, and $450 for dinner, rather than shopping themselves. We launched this new program to tremendous fanfare on January 1. And to make it even better, our development team was able to secure a sponsorship of the program by Alliance Data Systems to the tune of $50,000.
To lead this new program, we tapped Chef Blair, a highly-experienced food services professional from The Ohio State University and a volunteer at the House. Her experience in high-volume cooking, paired with her love for the mission of RMHC, made her uniquely qualified for the job. And she has been a hit. Working full time, her energy and passion for the House has helped us to grow our relationships with corporations in the community. And with her buying expertise, we have dramatically decreased the cost of ingredients for our meals. Our team is currently spending less than $150 per breakfast and lunch, and less than $200 per dinner, providing over 350 meals each and every day that are healthy and with great variety. This includes more fruits and vegetables, and fewer carbs and sugars. We are also now able to provide more protein – which is where our friends at McDonald’s come in.
After learning that McDonald’s was able to put good food to good use and donate unused protein, we had an idea – use it for Team Cuisine meals at the Ronald McDonald House. One of our local owner/operators loved the idea and agreed to participate to help reduce our budget and provide a great outlet to give good food a second life. Now, twice per week, volunteers from the House visit a local McDonald’s to pick up fish, sausage, hamburger patties, chicken nuggets, grilled chicken, crispy chicken and more. We are currently receiving 25 to 50 pounds of protein twice per week. Needless to say, this has been a welcome addition to our offerings. It has been put to use in a very unique way. For instance, Chef Blair recently made delicious fish tacos using Filet-O-Fish that was donated. She also made chicken parmesan that would rival any meal from the best local establishments using McDonald’s Crispy Chicken. She even created Mexican chicken bowls and chicken tostadas using protein from McDonald’s. This has been an amazing relationship builder with the McDonald’s owner/operators and crew members, and they are full of pride knowing that this food is being put to use for our guest families.
Now corporations, community groups, and others who are looking for team building opportunities have a program at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. With their minimal investment of financial resources, groups are given the unique opportunity to work with a talented Chef, learning the culinary arts. Teams work together to make restaurant-quality food, and it’s a lot of fun. But most of all, they are making a tremendous impact on the lives of children and families from around the world staying at our House.
This year alone, 240 groups will participate in the Team Cuisine program at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. This is leading our charge to build strong partnerships with corporations in the community, and is leading directly to greater investment in RMHC of Central Ohio related to financial support and volunteerism. And the best part is that guests at the Ronald McDonald House are thrilled with the meals that they are now being provided, at no cost to them. The meals are consistently nutritious, full of variety, and delicious to eat.
Last year, RMHC of Central Ohio provided 112,500 meals. The impact of this program is vast and growing. With the leadership of Chef Blair, our Team Cuisine program stands to not only increase the number of meals provided, but healthy and varied meals, all while helping to eliminate food waste.
By Joel Merrill, Facilities Director
I was asked recently to write a few lines for our blog this Independence Day. It was suggested that maybe I write a little about myself and my work here at the House. A spotlight of Joel Merrill, if you will.
I am not the story. I am just a person who is thankful this July 4th for having this incredible opportunity to utilize my years of maintenance training and my love of the Ronald McDonald House Charities all at the same place.
I consider myself the luckiest guy on the planet. I am able to work with the many volunteers and staff members that are here to keep the Ronald McDonald House a wonderful home away from home for the families that have sick and injured children at one of Columbus’ local hospitals. Families from all across America that may be far away from other relatives & friends with whom they might usually be grilling out with or sharing a fireworks show with on this holiday. While there are too many local volunteers to give good credit to here on this blog, they all, without exception, give their time, energy, and experience every time they come in. The volunteers have the biggest hearts and care so very much for the families from across the country and around the world. After all, volunteering is the all-American thing to do.
The volunteers that I am honored to work with the most on a daily bases are people that we call our “craftsmen.” They work on projects mostly that involve making things or making things work again. They build benches, event sets, and toy boxes, among other things. They make repairs to the buildings. They upgrade rooms. They keep the yard mowed and trimmed. They help keep this big House the great temporary home away from home that it is. And we wouldn’t be able to do it all without the help of group volunteers who sign up from time to time to come in and help spruce things up. Groups like workers from the Honda manufacturing facility in Marysville. Or the workers from American Family Insurance that set aside a Saturday last month to come in and help with landscaping and painting rooms, for example. We even have a Deloitte Day every year when so many of those folks get to leave their computers at the office and come in to get their hands dirty. That’s what America is all about.
I have been involved with the Ronald McDonald House in some way for about 10 years now and have never lost the awe of just how the volunteers can do what they do.
I hope that I never become so involved with being a staff member that I lose the “sight’ to see and observe how my fellow staffers and volunteers interact with the families that are our guests. It is just amazing to me to see the joy in the children’s faces when Mel sits with them and just talks. Or to see the love that Dottie puts into every room that she “restocks” for a new guest. Or how warm Courtney is with the guests. Those are just a few examples of the “Heart” that is the Ronald McDonald House.
Take a little time to reflect, during the 4th of July holiday, on how wonderful heart -warming the Ronald McDonald House is and how much of an all-American welcoming, positive “vibe” there is here. If you haven’t had a chance to see inside the House, yourself, we invite you to call and set up a tour. Listen to the interactions. Observe the love, the compassion, and the caring that is spread by all.
I do not know how anyone can spend 5 minutes here and not fall in love with everything/reason that the Ronald McDonald House is here.
By Kirby Boes
June 19, 2018
Hi, I’m Kirby! I’m from Worthington, Ohio and will be a senior at Miami University in the fall where I am double majoring in Strategic Communications and Psychology. Today is my first day interning at the RMHC Marketing & Communications department and I could not be more thrilled to be here!
This is the story of how I ended up here at the Ronald McDonald House for my 2018 Summer internship.
In the spring of my senior year of high school at Columbus School for Girls back in 2015, I needed to fulfill our senior “May Program” graduation requirement in which we were to individually find any company, business, or organization to intern/shadow at for the month of May leading up to graduation. After taking time to think about what I wanted to get out of this experience I realized I wanted to intern somewhere that was a good cause and made a positive impact in our community. So, I ended up at the Ronald McDonald house working in the Donor Relations department, where I assisted in planning the RMHC Golf Tournament fundraiser, along with several other fundraising events. I truly could not have asked for a better experience! Over the past few years since this experience, I’ve never forgotten how much I enjoyed my time at the Ronald McDonald House, which is why it was the first place to come to mind when searching for communications/marketing related internships this summer before my senior year of college!
After reaching out to RMHC Senior Director of Communications and Facilities, Ryan Wilkins, about a summer internship he immediately welcomed me back on board, which is why I am sitting here today writing this blog post on my first day of this great internship at the RMHC Department of Marketing & Communications.
So far, I have been here only 4 hours and have never felt so welcomed anywhere in my life. Ryan and the other members of this department have all gone out of their way to welcome me into the RMHC team. I can tell they truly care about my growth and success here at RMHC and that is such a wonderful feeling.
Today was focused on goal setting, where I outlined what I hope to get out of this internship as well as what I would like to work on during my time here. This was to help Ryan understand what I would like to accomplish, however it turned out to help me in a number of ways too by giving me the chance to really think about what I want to gain through this experience, what I would truly like to focus on, and how I can play an active role in the RMHC community. Additionally, this goal setting activity made me feel wanted and appreciated by the RMHC staff, demonstrating that they are actually happy to have me on board and that they value my time here as much as I do.
Today was an outstanding first day and I cannot wait to learn more about RMHC, communications & marketing, nonprofits, and myself during this time at RMHC. I’m very happy to be here!
By Melissa Ransom, Family Services Manager
Three years ago I joined this great organization, the Ronald McDonald House of Central Ohio. What an absolute joy and honor it has been to have a window into the amazing community that surrounds and supports this home away from home for so many. Each year, I’m honored to help this House provide rest for thousands of families that find themselves in such extremely difficult circumstances. As a Family Services Manager, I feel fortunate to be able to be there for folks who just need a helping hand in the form of a bed to sleep in, a homemade meal to eat, or just escape from the hospital to enjoy a bit of normalcy.
A big part of my job serves as that first contact for the families as they arrive here at the RMHC of Central Ohio and go through the check-in process and then again at the end of their stay as they are able to be discharged to go home. This is such a unique experience as each Family Service Manager is able to hear a bit of the story of each individual family and their experience with their stay at the house. On one such evening about a month ago as I was checking out a very grateful family, the mother began to pour out her thankfulness to me and explain how this House was such an absolute stress reliever and answer to her prayers! With tears in her eyes she communicated her gratefulness, as she lived in a very rural area in Michigan and was not familiar with big city life at all. She was very overwhelmed at the thought of traveling to a big city and then to arrive here and be greeted by this home away from home – one in walking distance to the hospital where her son was being treated – was beyond her expectations! Over and over she thanked me as we completed the check out and she walked of my office leaving a huge smile on my face.
There are so many stories similar to this and yet there are such heavy and hard ones as well. In some instances, the family comes back from the hospital where they’ve received difficult news that any parent or grandparent would struggle to comprehend. In those instances, we’re here just to give a hug or to sit and cry with the family as we do our best to comfort them with all the empathy and concern we can give. Overall, its all the amazing stories of triumph and brave children and all the positive outcomes that make serving in the position so gratifying. Having this role allows us to be eyewitness to the strength of families and allows us to feel fortunate to help provide an amazing service to so many that just need someone to take the time to help them when they need a little extra support during a tough situation far from home.
That also means we’re in a wonderful position, as Family Services Managers, to also see firsthand, how the greater Columbus community comes together in so many ways to work toward a single, common goal of supporting those who’ve been thrust into our midst because of an ill child. It’s one of the greatest joys anyone can experience and I am blessed to be able to do that on a daily basis here at the Ronald McDonald House.
Hey all, Anna B. here – I recently graduated from Miami University and landed my dream job working for the Ronald McDonald House! Throughout high school and college, I pictured myself in just about every career aside from this one. I simply never considered it an option to work somewhere I’ve come to know and love. The Ronald McDonald House always just seemed like a fun place to spend an evening baking for the families or stopping by to drop off pop tabs. I never thought I could actually work here. That is, until I sat down with my soon to be boss (shout out to you, Jamie Fotlz!) about a year and a half ago to hear about what she does for a living. She opened my eyes to the world of fundraising and development – specifically, the role of planning fun and unique events to achieve the mission of an organization. It was that day that I decided I wanted to start building a career at RMHC and join the team of people who “keep families close”!
My earliest memory in the Ronald McDonald House was back in 2009. I was in seventh grade, and my friends and I came into drop off pop tabs. My mom’s trunk was full of them! It was the start of summer, and after a full school year devoted to taking every single pop tab off of the Gatorade cans at lunch. It cracks me up every time I tell someone from middle school that I work here. They immediately bring up the memory of my friends and I wearing big janitor gloves digging through the very full (and very gross) trash cans during our study hall. I don’t remember what exactly sparked this kind of devotion to RMHC – but, we loved collecting pop tabs. We came in and got a tour of the House. I was amazed by how much fun and love filled a place that I assumed would be really sad. I am still captivated by the love and joy that fills this home-away-from-home. Its proof that kindness for one another goes a long way.
Now, its 2018 and I am still collecting pop tabs, but I finally get to spend my days here at the Ronald McDonald House full time! I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to work alongside so many amazing staff and volunteers. Jamie had flowers waiting on my desk on my first day, Tom the volunteer invited me to ride on the dolly during lunch on Thursday, and George, the craftsman made me my very own ice cream scoop. Everyone has been more than welcoming my first few days. There has yet to be a dull moment.
I’ve always liked the quote “a house isn’t a home without a family” because it rings so true, especially inside these walls. I owe everyone here a huge thank you for welcoming me into this McFamily!
By Kelley Baster
I first started volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House when I was a student at Ohio State. I was still figuring out what I wanted to do in terms of a career. When I changed my major (again), my new class schedule left me with some extra time, which I decided to spend volunteering. Little did I know that this would actually answer my career question more than the classwork did.
Seven years later, here I am working as a Family Services Manager. A lot has changed since my volunteer days. My job duties now consist less of laundry and more of checking families into the house, giving them the information they will need while staying with us. The house has also grown significantly. The addition of 40 more guest rooms has allowed us to serve more families, and the Lego room and princess room have provided countless hours of fun for patients and their siblings.
Nonetheless, even as things have changed, many things remain the same. I sometimes see volunteers and families that were at the house when I started, some of whom have even been coming here for years before I started volunteering. And, even more importantly, our purpose here has remained the same: to keep families close and lighten the load that they are carrying. I once overheard a guest here saying that her friends and family back home don’t understand nearly as well as her Ronald McDonald House family did. She said this in a conversation among three families of drastically different backgrounds. The fact that she was focusing on how much they had in common truly stood out to me. She, like many here at the Ronald McDonald House, recognized how much we’re all in this together.
These are things that you can’t experience by working or volunteering just anywhere. That’s why I always tell people this is the first job I’ve had where I don’t look for a new job when I go home after work!
By Zak Chappelear
The first time I stepped into the Columbus Ronald McDonald House was about five years ago. But before I even entered the House, I was very familiar with the charity’s mission and how it all worked. My mom and grandmother had already been volunteering at the House for quite sometime. My mom was a House-warmer, helping to ready guest rooms for those families about to arrive at the House. My grandmother was, and still is, a Kitchen Host. She makes sure volunteer meal groups and the families staying at the house have what they need to get cooking, while also helping to make sure dining and serving areas are always neat and clean. I was between jobs at the time, and knowing I had some extra time, my mom and grandmother invited me to go with them to volunteer on one of their shifts. I was a little hesitant at first, but eventually decided to go along with them and check it out.
As soon as I walked into the house, I was welcomed by some of the nicest people that I had ever met. Throughout the entire first day, I just kept meeting lots of great people from the staff to the volunteers. Everyone was very helpful and great to work with, so the time flew and suddenly my volunteer shift was done. After that first day, I was hooked. It left such an impression on me knowing that I had just helped the House that was keeping families close while a child was in the hospital. And the families expressed their appreciation. That’s why I wanted to become more involved with the House. When I came back to do more, my first assignment was to help with transporting the big, heavy barrels full of all the collected pop tabs to the recycling plant. Since my dad also owned a truck, we decided to make recycling the pop tabs our job. Not only was it fun, it was cool to see how all those little aluminum pieces turned into a big check for the House. Seeing the generosity of volunteers of their time, and donations from the community of items as simple as milk jugs full of pop tabs, allowed me to make up my mind: I was going to continue to volunteer. That day, for me, would eventually be that start of more than 4 years of serving the House.
Since I wanted to be more involved with the House, I started to look for new ways or other opportunities to volunteer. My background is in construction, so I naturally felt the calling to help with the building maintenance. As I began to work with the Facilities Director, I fell more and more in love with the House. There’s just something heart-warming about helping to make sure the heats working in the room of a family that’s come from a far warmer climate; just baring Ohio’s cold winter to do what they can for their child’s health. Or making sure the refrigerator’s working for that new mom whose pumping and has to store her milk for when her baby needs it. After about a year and a half volunteering in my free time , I felt I had learned all of the nuts & bolts of how this big House works while also forming long-lasting bonds with fellow volunteer craftsman. And that’s when I was fortunate to be offered a full time job to work as the House’s Facilities Technician .
Those bonds with the volunteers and staff at Ronald McDonald House have solidified over my years working at the House, to the point where the whole RMHC team feels like a family. I’ve learned a lot from this extended family. My experience has allowed me to gain invaluable knowledge that I will take with me as a venture into a new facilities role at my church. One of the unique things about my experience working at the house was that I was honored to work with members of my actual family as, together, we helped to serve the families staying in the House. And I’m not the only member of my family whose grown (in more ways than one) from serving these out-of-town families. My mom also moved from a volunteer position to a staff position. Now, as the Program Manager, she has an important role in making sure the families are comfortable whether they’re staying at the House or visiting the new Ronald McDonald Family Room at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital. My dad still comes in from time to time to volunteer with facilities projects. My Grandmother is still one of the amazing volunteer Kitchen Hosts, a role she loves too. And my aunt, who sometimes cuts hair for families staying at the House, also joined the staff as one of the weekend Volunteer Coordinators.
As you can see, The Ronald McDonald House isn’t just a place where families can come together and have a safe and warm place to stay while their child is receiving treatment. It’s also a place where families can work together to help provide that safe warm place for other families. Whether it’s volunteering as a family, or a group of friends to clean and make beds, or co-workers making meals, or even staff members making sure the House is running 24/7, it’s all worth the time given and much needed. Not to mention that you always end up having a lot of fun! It really can be like one big happy family, even if you’re not actually related!
Today is my first day at the Ronald McDonald House of Central Ohio. I’m volunteering as a Communication Intern for the next few months. I’m a third year student at The Ohio State University and am on a light class load for the semester, so I have some free time – why not give back? In December, I reached out to a mentor downtown to chat about possibilities of volunteering or interning. He mentioned typical volunteer opportunities such as making meals, or professional opportunities, how he gives back. If I have a skillset that can bring value, why not use it for good? Time is perishable – if I don’t use my skills today or tomorrow, they are wasted and those are 48 hours I can’t get back. Those are 48 hours that could have been used to help put smiles on families’ faces. So here I am, a few weeks later – ready to get to work. I am blessed with a supportive family, and am excited to help other families stay together while their children get the care they need! If my work helps one family smile, my time will be worth it.
I live about 40 minutes from the house by bus (it’s kind of a hike), so I was planning on only coming in one day a week. As I turned off of High Street on to Livingston Avenue, I saw Nationwide Children’s Hospital – it is enormous. I’ve participated in Buckeyethon – an Ohio State fundraiser to support Nationwide Children’s Hospital, but have never seen it in person. I then sat in the lobby of the house waiting to be walked back to the office and had the opportunity to watch some of the families. Kids running around smiling, parents asking (and receiving) anything one could fathom and volunteers checking in. I knew this place was going to be special, but couldn’t imagine the immediate connection I felt. So, that one day a week turned into 2 days and some time out of the office.
I am now on a mission – there is now a purpose to my free time.
As a student at Ohio State, I’m constantly surrounded by some of the smartest and most outstanding kids in the world. We have the opportunity to access a world class education and peers trying to change the world. With that said, it is kind of a bubble – students, and I myself am guilty, often don’t see past campus. I think the same thing can be said for society as a whole, but that’s a different discussion. The world is bigger than what we see every day. I’m excited to get out of that bubble and I’m excited to learn. Most importantly, I am excited to help make a difference.
I was raised giving back from when I can first remember – “tzedakah” as we call it in the Jewish religion. I am lucky to be in the position to donate my time, and am excited for this experience.
What are you doing with your free time? Check out how to get involved: https://rmhc-centralohio.org/get-involved/volunteer/
How do I explain the complexity and generosity of the Ronald McDonald House in one
page? I do not believe it is possible, but I will try to describe its profound impact and nurturing
As a recent graduate, I did not think I would be fortunate enough to find a job that I
was truly passionate about right out of college. However, upon graduation, I was hired at
Nationwide Children’s Hospital to work with the young siblings of patients in the hospital. Over
the past year, I have spent countless hours interacting with children while their precious
brother or sister was staying in the hospital.
One afternoon, I was playing a very intense game
of Monopoly with a sweet 4 year old boy. I was engaging in small conversation during our
game and asked him, “Did you have a long drive to the hospital this morning?” He replied, “No
we walked…and we live in the coolest house you have ever seen.” Of course, this statement
sparked my interest! I asked him, “Well, what makes it so special?” He then went on to say,
“Grace… it has a lego room….a splash pad….so, so, so many cookies every single day…Ohio
State Buckeye stuff… oh! and a movie theatre – me and my brother watch a ton of action
I acknowledged his statement sincerely, but I assumed it was most likely just
a childish exaggeration of where he actually lived. When it was time for pick-up, I told his
mother about our conversation. She teared up and explained to me that they had been living
at the Ronald McDonald House for over two hundred days due to her daughter’s extended
stay in the NICU. Her two other children had started to truly consider it their home. Without
ever walking through the doors of the Ronald McDonald House, I felt entirely connected to
this amazing organization.
During my time spent at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, many of the conversations I
have with families are humbling, and they make a difference in my day and my outlook.
However, my experience with that little boy and his mother really stood out to me. I
immediately wanted to learn more about the mission of the Ronald McDonald House and find
a way to get involved.
A few months later, I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to
work there. At the house, I have been welcomed with warm smiles, friendly encounters, and
impactful stories by employees, volunteers and residents. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of
such a place? What we do at the Ronald McDonald House has a positive impact on more
people than we will ever know, and for that reason, I am truly proud and honored to be a part
of such an amazing organization.