Team Cuisine wins Hearts & Hands Award

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.