It’s now been about 6 months since all the planning of the 10,000 square-foot garden directly behind the Ronald McDonald House really began to come to fruition. The plans for the garden had actually begun last year, by Alex Paquet, Summer Fellow from The Columbus Foundation during his position with our chapter. After dilapidated houses had been razed on the lots, which RMHC of Central Ohio had recently acquired, the ground began to be prepared to become a large home for vegetables, fruits, & herbs. When it was planned, it was expected that we could have large groups of volunteers helping to start and regularly tend to the garden. Then COVID-19 interrupted that plan. Though there was a pause in the cultivation of the garden, the determination to make this garden happen couldn’t be stunted. In fact, it seemed more important than ever to get the garden going.
Since the cold start, one regularly-scheduled volunteer has really made it his mission to make the dream of a garden a reality. Bill Mount already spent a lot of time outside at the House, mowing the lawns. An avid gardener, he was determined to get this large outdoor space prepared for planting. Now, he was bringing a much bigger tractor to the House, to till the soil in the garden. But this soil is city soil. All kinds of brick and pipe pieces and stones had to be hand-picked from the soil for the tiller on the back of his tractor to do its job. With now only some staff coming into the House, besides the families themselves, it was decided that the available staff would get busy helping to remove large objects from the dirt, at a physical distance and with masks on. That would be a great start, but volunteers were still needed for the next steps.
When the governor gave the word that our state would begin to slowly re-open, that allowed us to schedule a few small groups to come help prepare the garden for planting. Being a large, open space outside, it was determined only a few small group of volunteers could come help Bill get the garden started while taking distancing precautions. After the weed mats were laid over the ground, a torch device was used to burn holes in the covering to begin planting. One of the small groups to help with this process was a group of doctors affiliated with Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The garden was now well on its way to becoming like a small farm field, as one volunteer called it.
Now, we’re proud to announce that we have the following vegetables planted: sweet corn, Indian corn, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onions, and 150 tomato plants. Pole, bush, & wax beans; summer, zucchini, butternut, & spaghetti squash; garlic; & collard greens are all ready to be harvested. Some kale has been harvested along with all of the butter lettuce. Cantaloupes & raspberry bushes are also in the growing along with sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, dahlias, and Eucalyptus.
There have been grassy cross paths established in the garden to walk around the different plots, which intersect with a round center area where more than 20 varieties of herbs surround a banana tree. Wire tunnels have also been built where vines producing gourds are climbing up the sides. Bill says, “the size of this garden is similar to the size of a large production garden.” But as all of the plants in the garden are reaching for the sun, cattle paneling is used to really make use of the ground space by training the plants to grow upward, making use of all the space. Volunteer Director Kate Becker says, “I envision the garden helping us feed 300 people a day.” The cost of food for families staying in such a large House as ours, finding affordable food can be quite challenging. “We’re feeding so many people, we needed enough food to actually feed our families,” Kate said. That’s exactly what’s happening now. Our Chef Blair Arms has already used beets and and lettuce in recipes for our families. Thanks to the few volunteer groups that have made it happen.
It’s been a tough past four months trying to keep the world’s largest Ronald McDonald House operating. Of course, the challenges we’ve faced keeping our rooms available for our guests, pails in comparison to the real struggle our families are going through so their young patients can get the care they need. We’ve managed to keep the families that stay here relatively comfortable through the pandemic. It’s no small duty considering we usually keep the House going with hundreds of regularly scheduled volunteers and volunteer groups. Just before the pandemic struck our state, we started a 10,000-foot garden. A concept that came from volunteers with the idea that volunteer groups could tend to the garden on a regular basis. It’s not been the same at our House since we had to stop our large scale scheduling of volunteers. In addition to meal groups. fundraiser event groups, & family activity groups, we often put volunteers to work organizing and storing donations. Volunteers with groups often express how much they learn about our mission and how that new understanding gives them motivation to do more.
Several months ago, Noelle Meeker, a senior at Olentangy Liberty High School, volunteered at the House with DECA , a student organization that trains young people to be future leaders and entrepreneurs. It’s the experience she had volunteering at our House, that Meeker points to when She says she was struck by what she saw inside our House when she volunteered with a group. The experience led her to appreciate why housing families near their hospitalized children isn’t just more convenient, it’s necessary for the patient to make improvements. Meeker credits her experience at our Ronald McDonlad House in garnering the Branch Insurance Strength in Community Service Award earlier this month.
We hope, one day in the near future, to welcome large volunteer groups back to the House so more people can be touched by the experience of helping our House.
Our garden has reached a milestone today. While we were happy to welcome some members of the Columbus Realtors to volunteer in our garden this morning, we had a pleasant surprise by lunchtime. We were actually able to serve some of the produce from our garden. Families staying at the House who were here for lunch, were able to be the first to try some of the butter lettuce grown and it got rave reviews!
This moment has been a long time coming. Last year, the idea sprouted and began to take form when it was realized that some of the dilapidated houses on property acquired by our charity, had to come down. That opened up a 10,000 square-foot space and the garden location was set. Over time, our volunteers came to embrace this project, including a long time volunteer, Bill Mount, an avid gardener at his own home, began to come to the Ronald McDonald House a little more often to prepare the soil for gardening. It was during a tough time because the pandemic had shut down group activity in the state of Ohio. But we were able to get small groups, distancing and wearing masks, to keep progress in the garden. We even had a group of doctors recently helping plant in our garden.
There’s still much more to do and the garden will need maintained. In the coming months, we hope to be able to have more volunteers helping in the garden while keeping physical distance and keeping this ten-thousand-square-foot garden growing!
Thanks to these business supporters for helping make the garden possible:
– Wholesale Stone Supply
-The Columbus Foundation
-Scotts MiracleGro Foundation
-Franklin Park Conservatory
Bill Mount was introduced to the Columbus Ronald McDonald House when the first House was built on 18th Street in 1982. He was working for Converse Electric when the company was awarded the contract to do the electrical work for that first building. As the project manager, Bill was among the first to help get the House started in Central Ohio. In 2008, it was time to move into the current building, Bill was the project manager again, being there for the demolition of the old building and saving as many materials as possible for the new building. Continuing as project manager, Bill was involved in with the construction of the current House, and its expansion in 2014. “That’s how I got acquainted with the Ronald McDonald House. I really didn’t know much about it before that,” he said during a recent interview after mowing the lawn at the House. “I had seen the positive impact and the good things that happen and how it helps the families to stay close.”
After retiring in 2018, Bill said he wanted to stay involved with the House, so he continued to volunteer in various ways, including working with one particular gentleman from Continental Building Company on the golf committee for RMHC. Bill explained, “I had offered to help with the building and Todd Alexander, with Continental, said it might be a good idea.” Bill started by doing electrical work and craftsman work in the House, and now he also takes care of the yard and grounds. Bill points out, “I have been involved and I enjoy it and I think it’s a great, great facility and I’m happy to be part of it.”
Bill ‘s contributions to the House hasn’t just been with the physical building itself. “Through Converse Electric, we’ve provided a half-dozen dinners and that’s pretty rewarding. Everyone is so thankful because they’re getting a nice cooked meal,” he said. Bill reminisced about one of his favorite moments in the House, which didn’t involve fixing something, but did involve his wife. “Molly and I came down and brought dishes and plates and glasses and cups…and paint. And we let the kids paint. It was an activity in the evening. We had the paints and brushes and so forth and they painted all kinds of designs all over the plates. That was pretty fun, to interact with the kids. That night was great.”
Many folks are being asked to stay away from others as much as possible during the pandemic and our Ronald McDonald House has ceased most volunteer opportunities. Bill is one of the few volunteers still coming back to help the House. When asked why he still comes to help take care of the grounds, Bill quipped, “The grass keeps growing.” After a chuckle, he continued, “It’s pretty easy for me to maintain social distancing and stay outside. I don’t go in the House that much.”
Now, Bill has also set his sights on another outdoor activity on the property. Thanks to his extensive knowledge of gardening, he’s taken a lead role in helping our new garden grow. “Well, I was raised on a farm and I have a degree in animal science from Ohio State and I have gardened my whole life. I enjoy planting stuff, watching it grow, harvesting and working in the dirt. I still like it.” He’s really taken the lead on this project, even recruiting his fellow craftsmen and RMHC staff members one early day in April to help go through the garden area to remove rocks so he could bring in his tractor to till it. What’s more, he was able to convince Acorn Farms, a local wholesale plant distributor, to make a generous contribution to the garden. “They’re donating compost. So, I’ve hauled three loads down and I’m going to get three or four more. Once I get that spread out on the garden, we’ll till it in and mix it all up with the soil that’s there and hopefully have a bed ready to plant. I’d like to plant, if not this weekend, next week, some of the early stuff. We’re going to plant like broccoli and cauliflower and peas and radishes and beats and lettuce and things like that that tolerate the cold and cooler weather and then in a month or so, we’ll plant all the other vegetables.”
This garden won’t only provide some nutritious items for Chef Blair Arm’s meals, but Bill hopes it will also be a stress reliever for guests staying at the House. Families will be able to come out and get their hands dirty in the soil, if they would like, by pulling weeds and helping keep the garden in good condition. “Or if they just want to go out and sit. We’ll probably have some benches around and some paths through it,” he added. Plans even include a gourd archway with plants growing up each side.
It’s also hoped that the garden will offer educational opportunities for anyone involved with the garden. Bill points out that he’s learned a lot at the House and misses working with all the other volunteer craftsmen right now, but he looks forward to the time they can all work together again. “They’re a unique bunch. They’ve taught me a lot. I work with them on electrical, but they’re teaching me on other facets… flooring and drywall and so forth… so I’m learning from them and gaining that experience but it’s enjoyable working with them. They’re a good bunch of guys.”
Editor’s Note: To support the Ronald McDonald House Garden fundraiser, click here.
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio is committed to the health and well being of our community. Our team is working diligently to address concerns with the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus). In an effort to maintain the safety of our community, we have suspended non-essential volunteer groups. In addition, many meal groups have cancelled or rescheduled for a later date. As you know, the Ronald McDonald House and Ronald McDonald Family Room are completely dependent upon volunteerism to operate.
In these challenging times, we are fortunate to have many people asking how they can help us at RMHC. If you are interested in helping us provide meals to guests of the Ronald McDonald House, please consider making a donation. To learn more about supporting the meal program, called Team Cuisine, please email Katherine.Becker@RMHC-CentralOhio.org. To make a financial donation to support our operations, please visit rmhc-centralohio.org/donation-form/.
In addition, RMHC of Central Ohio has postponed our Volunteer Appreciation Dinner and Handbag HULLABALOO! Dublin in compliance with Governor DeWine’s Executive Order. We will be working with our event committees to announce the rescheduled dates for those events as they become available.
Please know that we sincerely appreciate the support of our community, and look forward to the day that we can open our doors once again to volunteer groups.
RMHC of Central Ohio
In about March 2018, I was asked to attend a “quilt guild” meeting with a friend I had recently met. I have sewn all my life but knew nothing of quilting and thought I had no interest. I mistakenly believed quilting to be all about making a bedspread. But, in an effort to honor my friend’s request, I agreed to go. I was absolutely enthralled with the “pictures made out of fabric” that I saw at that meeting. I knew this was something I must do. I bought a new sewing machine in May of 2018 and took off like a racehorse out of the gates.
My first quilts were a series of nursery rhyme scenes from my own original drawings. I hoped to sell them but figured I could give them to my grandchildren if they didn’t sell. Much to my surprise, when I showed them to the owner of a local children’s book store, she bought them all and asked me to make a few more. She hung them above the bookshelves in her store and they fit perfectly and look great. Then she asked me if I would make a quilt from a watercolor picture that her son had made for her. She wanted this quilt to be bigger so children could snuggle in it on the reading couch in the back of her store. I first spoke with the artist to ask permission because I want children to know that they have ownership of things that they create. I make a big deal out of this with every quilt I make. When I completed this quilt, which depicts a mouse saying “Please read”, I knew I had found a calling. This process combines my passion for children’s original artwork with my lifelong love of fabrics.
The children’s bookstore asked me to put business cards on their counter and I began to receive calls for quilts. One day I met a woman who asked me about my quilting. I will never forget her question to me after we had spoken just a few minutes. She said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could use your talent to honor children who have died?” She told me that she had just lost her great nephew two weeks prior and that she had some of his last pieces of artwork. I was quite taken aback and told her I would think about that. My husband and I decided that we really did not need the money that a quilt business brings in, so……I contacted my new friend and said that, yes, I would make that quilt as a gift to her great nephew’s mother. At that point I began telling each family that there was a catch to this gift. When I brought them their quilt, they would need to refer me to another family that I could sew for. Not necessarily a family who had experienced loss but a family whose child was experiencing illness. This worked well but extremely slowly. I knew I could do much more. I mentioned this to a friend and she told me to contact the Ronald McDonald House so I did. It was a great decision because now I have access to many families that I can honor with a quilt.
I figure it takes me about 20 hours to make most of the quilts which measure about 3’ x 4’. This includes time for fabric shopping and a lot of staring at the original artwork. The most fun part of the process is deciding how to approach the project because the medium used makes different approaches necessary.
I make sure each family receives their quilt within a couple weeks. I have delivered nine quilts to Ronald McDonald families so far.
My very favorite comment was made by a father from Spain. He and his wife bring their two daughters to Columbus every three months for treatments. He pointed at the quilt I had made the girls and he said, “This is great reminder………of you………of here………of all”. That’s about when I lost it and I cried all the way home in the car. I think I would like those words printed on a plaque or something.
I do it because I love to do it. I love to get inside a child’s head as I analyze what they drew first and what later, or how they used the marker or paint brush. I love the honesty and the freedom and the charm of children’s artwork. I love to work with fabrics.
The culture of quilting seems to me to be about two things really: comfort and legacy. I hope that families find physical comfort snuggled under a quilt I have made. And I label each piece carefully so that when it’s found in a box, many generations from now, it will also serve as a legacy for the child that inspired it. I get more pleasure than I can describe from looking at children’s artwork and trying to recreate it. I am beyond honored to be a part of their stories.
I plan to continue to make these quilts indefinitely, as long as I am financially able. I use only quality materials and they are not inexpensive. It is my paying customers that allow me to continue to make gifts. As long as I can rustle up a few paying customers, I will make quilts for the families of Ronald McDonald House.
I have always been a person who goes after what they want; who makes things happen; that type of person. In my retirement years, I have been overcome with the feeling that it’s time to stop that; to just relax and see what comes to me. This new approach to life is working miraculously for me. Not one aspect of my quilt making has been my own idea. Each step has occurred because someone asked me to do something or encouraged me to do something. Two years ago I could not have imagined that I would be doing the things that I’m doing today and I’ve never been happier. As I said earlier, I am beyond honored to be a part of the Ronald McDonald House and the families that I sew for. Sincere thanks to all of you.
If you’re passion is your vegetable garden, you probably think of your garden even in the winter. Otherwise, most folks may not be thinking of gardening in February, even though it has been unusually warm during the start of the month. We here at the Ronald McDonald House, however, have been thinking of gardening because we’re excited about our a new garden – our garden – behind the House!
RMHC recently acquired older houses behind our main building and those structures had to be demolished because they were in terrible condition. “With two empty parcels now within our fenced area we wanted to beautify the space,” says our Volunteer Director, Kate Becker. So with the plan green-lit, and funding from a grant approved by Scott’s Miracle Gro via The Columbus Foundation, it was decided that the 8,000 square-foot space would become a garden full of tomatoes, herbs, beans, squash, broccoli and flowers.
“Our intention is that we will use the produce that we grow to help feed the families staying here,” Becker said. “Since we have a Chef on staff who is focused on creating healthy homemade meals for our families this was a perfect fit.”
Of course, it doesn’t just take money to make a garden happen, it takes gardeners. With help and enthusiasm for the prospect of a garden at our House, regular volunteer Bill Mount jumped at the opportunity to help get this piece of our new property growing. Mount is an experienced gardener with contacts in the world of community-gardening, so his help will be invaluable.
Stay tuned for updates about the garden as spring comes!
Groups from Cardinal Health volunteer on a regular basis at our Ronald McDonald House, giving more than a thousand hours of their time. The company supports our families in many ways. On January 29, the volunteers made lunch for our families and helped clean up our dining room. The organizer of the group, Michael Heller, knows the stress of having a child inpatient at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, so he can relate to the parents staying with us. Christina Keegan has volunteered many times with Cardinal Health, but this is her first time volunteering at the House and loved the experience. Hear them talk about their experiences in a video tribute we’ve put together from the recent visit. You can watch the video by clicking the image below. Thanks to Cardinal Health and its employees for helping us keep families near their hospitalized children.
For nearly two years, Paula Johnson Neal has been a volunteer at our Ronald McDonald House. She currently staffs our front desk on the first Sunday of every month and greets arriving visitors and families with her warm smile. The Sunday afternoon shift is typically the busiest check-in time for families. Professionally, Paula has worked as a teacher and preschool director for 25 years. She currently works at the YWCA of Columbus as the preschool director over the organization’s center serving children experiencing temporary homelessness. In addition to volunteering in her spare time, she enjoys zip lining and writing.
Her interest in serving children and families in their deepest times of need matches RMHC’s mission to create, find and support programs that directly improves the health and well-being of children and their families. Paula says witnessing families in distress can be heartbreaking, however, she believes the benefits of being a comforting resource outweigh it. “My employment and volunteer status reminds me that we never know what children and their families are going through. The importance of teaching kindness to all – especially children – needs to start early.”
This past June, Paula decided to combine her love of writing with her love of children by becoming a published author of a children’s book titled, “I’M GONNA HAVE A GOOD DAY!” As Paula describes it, “It’s is a multicultural children’s picture book that provides a window into a classroom involving a bully named Gabby. Gabby wants to have her kind of day at the expense of her classmates.” Fed up with Gabby’s words, “I’M GONNA HAVE A GOOD DAY,” not matching up with her actions, Gabby’s classmates take a stance. “The book’s cliffhanger provides an opportunity as a conversation starter for teachers and parents with children to discuss the importance of instilling and displaying kindness,” Paula says.
Paula points out that the urgency of the message this book carries during this critical time in our society can’t be understated. “This book is very important because children, as young as 4 years of age are experiencing some form of bullying type behavior in preschool, grade school and on the playground.” Paula goes on to say that, “Many may argue young children are learning how to socially and emotionally interact with their peers. Sadly, behaviors that are precursors to bullying and actual bullying do exist in many early childhood settings.” In addition, Paula adds, when consciously and unconsciously left unaddressed, rather than used as teachable moments, “children displaying precursor behavior and children on the receiving end may enter kindergarten socially-emotionally ill-prepared.”
Editor’s Note: Paula has chosen to further support the mission of the RMHC by donating a portion of the books proceeds during the month of January to RMHC of Central Ohio. Her book can be purchased on her website, paulajohnsonneal.com.
On Christmas morning, many folks were waking up early to prepare for excited children, (who may have already been awake), to open presents under the tree. But the Lyons Family, along with the Laube, Davies and Jones Families, were all waking up early to prepare for something different. They were headed to the Columbus Ronald McDonald House to make breakfast for families having to stay at the House. Donna Lyons says she got the idea to bring her young daughter to make the holiday morning breakfast for families after she had volunteered at the House putting up Christmas trees. That was 27 years ago. They’ve come to make breakfast every Christmas morning since then, growing the team along the way. In this video, Donna introduces the family members who served our families the morning of December 25. Thank you to these families who have made this particular meal a Christmas tradition.