With much-needed support from programs by Ronald McDonald House Charities, sick children receive what they need the most during tough times: their families.

When a child’s life is spent in and out of hospitals, the presence of family can make a world of difference. Togetherness for these families is nothing short of precious, but it’s not as simple as just being there. The best thing parents can provide is not just their physical presence, but stability and resolve in the face of hardship – which under the circumstances can be taxing to provide.

Stacy Woelfel, mother to 4-year-old Caroline Woelfel, knows this better than most. Along with her husband Kyle, Stacy makes the trek from their rural home to the hospital at least once a month so that their young daughter Caroline can receive routine medical care.

Born with a hole in her heart, 4-year-old Caroline suffers from several underlying conditions including chronic fatigue, autonomic dysfunction and the need for leg braces. As such, life never been quite normal for the Woelfels. Stacy and Kyle must be the rock Caroline needs, a task that is infinitely easier when they can be fully present for their daughter in mind, body and spirit. “We’re going through a lot,” said Stacy, “but we also have a lot of support.”

Much of this support has come in the form of Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC®), an organization devoted to helping families like the Woelfels stay together and get the resources they need to cope and thrive. More than just a refuge, RMHC gave the Woelfels a place to stay, decompress and find solace near their daughter between those long trips to the hospital and back. It is a base they can return to without worrying about the logistics.

“Ronald McDonald House® is here so we can have our base, and be with our child,” Stacy said. “We have the freedom to come when we need to. It’s so important. Caroline will never be alone in this. Never.”

Support from charitable causes like RMHC helps to alleviate some of the intense emotional and financial toll families like the Woelfels experience. By providing housing and spaces near hospitalized children and covering the expenses of staying together in distant cities, RMHC provides critical stability and resources to those in need. Its impact is felt keenly every day by patients and their families — and made possible through the generosity of its donors.

Help give the gift of togetherness today.

Sick children need great care, without a doubt. But their families need it too, and it is this holistic notion of care for the whole family that RMHC has embedded into its mission.

In fact, an international survey of 530 hospital leaders with Ronald McDonald House program affiliations found that most leaders believed that caring for the whole family contributes to better outcomes for pediatric patients. The Ronald McDonald House allows families to get this care through better sleep, reduced feelings of isolation and assistance with food and transportation.

Ronald McDonald House Charities, which operates in more than 64 countries and regions with over 360 local Ronald McDonald House programs, delivers on this promise every day. Along with its other core programs, RMHC saved families over $880 million in out-of-pocket lodging and meal expenses in 2017 alone.

For families like the Woelfels, support from RMHC manifests as much more than a monetary savings. “Caroline calls [the House] her ‘safe place’ where she knows she won’t be poked and prodded,” Stacy said. “The staff gives her high-fives and encouragement as we head to the hospital. And then she comes back and tells them how she was so brave.”

The Woelfels don’t take time together for granted, and neither do the Jolivards, another family that has received support from RMHC.

When doctors told Daniel Jolivard’s parents he needed a bone marrow transplant, he was put on hospice care immediately. After his transplant, Daniel’s father Junior took him to his appointments, hours from their home, while his mother Rachel stayed back and worked, unable to be present for her son.

“We were soon introduced to the Ronald McDonald House just across the street from the hospital where we could all be together on weekends and holidays,” Rachel said. “Despite ongoing struggles or even the roughest of days, when we are with each other, there’s always happiness.”

In addition to its convenience, Ronald McDonald House has become a valuable support network, Rachel explained: “The other families in the House have become a part of our own family, giving that much more support for Daniel as he battles back.” RMHC also has given Daniel the opportunity to spend more time with his brother, always a cause for celebration. “Nothing else matters when I see the boys’ smiles and excitement in being together,” Rachel said.

Alongside its Ronald McDonald House programs, RMHC has over 240 Ronald McDonald Family Room® programs: comfortable, functional spaces in hospitals where families can rest and regroup during hospital visits.

Since its start in 1974, RMHC has assisted kids and their families, today with the support of 508,788 volunteers. Its work also extends beyond hospitals to help children in vulnerable communities, where over 50 Ronald McDonald Care Mobile® programs provide medical and dental care.

Daniel and Caroline represent just two of the millions of children and families helped every day by RMHC. But the organization can’t do it alone; their life-changing programs depend on donations large and small which fund these initiatives directly.

On days like Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday and Christmas, times when extra emphasis is placed on generosity and togetherness, donors to Ronald McDonald House Charities can be confident in their impact on real families like the Woelfels and Jolivards. 87 cents of every dollar spent by the global office of RMHC is used to fund RMHC programs in local communities across the globe. 90% of the top children’s hospitals in the world provide access to one or more RMHC programs, which, a strong majority of hospital administrators agree, play a significant role for families.

The combined impact of many small gifts from compassionate donors has brought about tangible returns. “Donors who have supported our stay at the House have given [my family] peace, comfort, joy, courage and strength,” Rachel Jolivard said. “I cannot think of anything more important than being by my son’s side to help him fight, to comfort him and to celebrate those special moments and small victories.”

Whether it’s for Giving Tuesday, the holidays or in memory of a loved one, charitable donations help families stay together in the spirit of the season. What’s more, year-end gifts come with the added bonus of tax savings. Those that give and itemize their donations before December 31 will receive a deduction if eligible come Tax Day 2019.

For Stacy and Caroline Woelfel, RMHC donations represent the hope and happiness shared by families every day, even in the face of great uncertainty. “We don’t know what the future holds,” Stacy said. “To be together now, in this moment, is everything.”

In the end, kids like Caroline and Daniel need many things to battle their illnesses, but the steadfast presence of their families will always top this list. With togetherness, the rest can follow.

Give the gift of togetherness to families in need by donating to Ronald McDonald House Charities today.

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA Today Network were not involved in the creation of this content.