29 April 2024

Take a look behind Canberra's big red doors at Ronald McDonald House

| Katrina Condie
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Woman standing and holding a door open

Ronald McDonald House Charities ACT and South East NSW executive officer Lee Maiden opens the door to help families with sick children. Photo: RMHC.

Behind the big red doors at Canberra’s Ronald McDonald House, you’ll find comfy beds, a hot shower, healthy food and loads of support for the families of sick and injured children.

Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) ACT and South East NSW executive officer Lee Maiden said many families were unaware the house existed within the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children.

“A lot of people think the house is for the families of children with cancer. However, most of those families stay at Ronald McDonald Houses in the Sydney Children’s Hospitals at Westmead and Randwick,” she said.

“We are here to support families who live at least 1oo kilometres away from Canberra that have seriously ill children being treated here.

“We cater for a lot of families with sick babies and newborns, but we welcome the families of children of all ages who have to stay in Canberra for a length of time.”

Children from the South Coast, Riverina and other nearby regions are often transferred to Canberra for treatment, sometimes with no warning, and Lee said many families didn’t know what services were available to them.

“We had a mum staying in a ward with her teenage son recently and she was washing her clothes in the sink and sleeping bedside with him. She found our big red doors and asked if she could do some washing. Before she knew it, we had a room for her where she stayed for many weeks,” she said.

Canberra’s Ronald McDonald House has 10 ensuite bedrooms and communal kitchen and living areas. In addition to a stocked pantry, families are provided with a fridge and pantry space to store their own provisions.

Group of people standing next to a table with food

The Region team has participated in the RMHC Meals from the Heart program. Photo: RMHC ACT.

Lee said Ronald McDonald House provided practical things like a bed and food, as well as a place for families to share their experiences and support each other during traumatic times.

“The longest stay we’ve had was 306 nights, which is a long time to be away from other family members, friends and workmates,” she said.

“To have other mums and dads to talk to, who totally understand the journey, is so important.”

There are many families with premature babies staying at the house and will often stay for many months until they can take their baby home.

“For a family to know they can be that close to their seriously ill child is very comforting for the family and important for the child,” Lee explained.

“Most parents have still got a mortgage or rent to pay, a job to go to, siblings and pets to look after, so by providing them with free accommodation, mum and dad can go back home for a day or two to when necessary to manage life a bit easier.”

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Lee said the Canberra community continues to support the 24/7 service in numerous ways, from local volunteers to the twice-weekly corporate cooking nights, Meals from the Heart, where staff from local businesses cook fabulous home-cooked meals for the families.

“The corporate nights are a great way for Canberrans to get involved and, by cooking a hot healthy meal, it’s just another thing the families don’t have to think about. If we didn’t have it, they may resort to eating fast food, which, of course, can be expensive,” she added.

Canberra families can also make use of the family room where they can have their clothes washed, have a shower and a volunteer can make them a cuppa and something to eat while visiting their children. It is a break away from the clinical environment of a hospital room.

Lee invites families who find themselves in the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children to come and discover what’s behind the big red doors.

The charity welcomes volunteers who can help in any way, and anyone keen to get involved should contact Lee via Ronald McDonald House Charities ACT and South East NSW.

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davidmaywald4:15 pm 19 Apr 24

Great article. Ronald McDonald House Charities across Australia are really valuable organisations, that support children and families at a time of great need.

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