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The Ronald McDonald House: A Home in Times of Need

Fall 2013

Fred Hill was a tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1969, when doctors informed him and his wife Fran that their three year old daughter Kim had been diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia. Kim was only given six months to live, yet she fought through an abnormal childhood. She spent three and a half years undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments in an attempt to defeat the cancer. By Kim’s second year of treatment, Hill came to feel the strain of having a child with leukemia.

In attempts to raise awareness and funds for childhood cancer treatment, Hill and other members of the Eagles put on a fashion show in 1971, raising $10,000 for the Leukemia Society of America. The next year the Eagles raised $125,000. With the help of his neighbor Stan Lane, Hill created his own charity, Eagles Fly for Leukemia, to raise money for the cause.

As Hill’s story spread, he came into contact with Dr. Audrey Evans at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Hill asked Evans how his organization could help her. Dr. Evans saw a need for short-term lodging near the hospital for young cancer patients and their families. To create this dream, Hill and Lane realized they needed more money. The next year, Eagles general manager Jim Murray arranged for quarterback Roman Gabriel to promote Shamrock Shakes with their local McDonald’s in exchange for all the profit. The McDonald’s Corporation agreed as long as the house being built for these families would be named the “Ronald McDonald House.” The first house was opened on October 15, 1974, on Spruce Street in Philadelphia. Today there are six houses in Pennsylvania, but Hill’s idea became something not even he himself could have imagined.

Throughout the United States and other countries there are now hundreds of Ronald McDonald houses that offer families great comfort while their children are undergoing treatments at nearby hospitals. Ronald McDonald Houses provide families home-cooked meals, private bedrooms, playrooms for recreational activities, and the chance to enroll in educational programs. The goal of the entire organization is to produce a “home away from home” for families who are struggling to care for their sick children. The Houses seek to decrease stress for worried families regarding payment for motels and meals. Because of the toll taken on the family both physically and financially, the Ronald McDonald House doesn’t ask for any more than $25 a day. If this becomes too expensive for a family, the family will not be thrown out or turned down. As long as there is a room available, anyone who lives more than 25 miles from the hospital will be accepted.

With the Ronald McDonald Organization only asking for a mere $25 a day, some will ask how the Houses can stay operational. Upon entering a local McDonald’s there are donation boxes sitting on top the counter. These boxes can also be found on the wall below the payment window at the drive-thru. Many Americans are unaware of the significant impact these boxes have on the lives of young children. In 2012 alone, these donation boxes collected $50 million. If every McDonald’s customer would put a penny in the donation box, there would be a total of $250 million raised. One full donation box allows a family of four to stay at a Ronald McDonald House for a night. There is also a pop tab donation drive that all Ronald McDonald Houses participate in. With the donation of each 730 pounds of aluminum, $150 is made for the charity. This is donated directly to local Ronald McDonald Houses and helps families such as the Ciaccirellis.

Michael and Margret Ciaccirelli once lived at the Ronald McDonald House in Minnesota where their son Max was undergoing treatment for Hurler’s syndrome. The Ciaccirellis not only had Max, but also a three year old daughter named Grace. Grace would have been starting pre-school when the family moved into the Ronald McDonald House, but instead she took part in a book club and music classes led by local volunteers. While Grace was learning and playing with friends she’d made at the house, Margret and Michael were able to spend time with their son. Margret claims the volunteers changed her life. While the parents were spending time with Max, they didn’t have to worry about cooking or cleaning; they were also sure that Grace had all the supervision she needed. Max Ciaccirelli passed away the day before Thanksgiving in 2003 at the age of one. Margret and Michael embraced the impact that volunteers had made on them and now volunteer weekly at their local Ronald McDonald House.

“I didn’t enjoy being sick,” Kim Hill told reporters in 1982. “But if I wasn’t sick, all of this might not have happened.” The Ronald McDonald House was founded as a result of one young girl’s fight against leukemia that has come to affect the lives of millions of young children. Though Kim Hill passed away in 2011, Fred Hill’s first Ronald McDonald house has flourished. Today there are 333 Ronald McDonald houses in 52 countries, 50 Ronald McDonald Care Mobiles in 6 countries, and 194 Family Rooms in 19 countries. It all began with the ideas, work, and good will of a football player, a doctor, and a fast-food restaurant in Philadelphia.