INDIANAPOLIS — No one wants their child to be in the hospital, especially on Christmas. But for families in that situation, the Ronald McDonald House of Central Indiana provides an inviting home away from home.
Amid the pandemic, the house has adapted to continue to serve its mission this holiday season.
The house is just a block from IU Health Riley Hospital for Children at 435 Limestone Street on the IUPUI campus. It is one of 360 around the world where families can stay at little or no cost while a child is treated at nearby hospitals.
"We provide respite and a sense of normal to the family, to the parents,” said Karin Ogden, Ronald McDonald House of Central Indiana Charities CEO, sitting at the fireplace in lobby of the House. “The patients might not be here with us, so we take care of the parents to make sure that when they're with their children, they're at their best."
16-year-old Jeffrey Singleton was diagnosed in July with stage four Hodgkin's lymphoma. His family lives in Fort Branch in southwestern Indiana, a three-hour drive from Riley. Jeffrey and his mother, Stacy, have stayed at the Ronald McDonald House during daily chemotherapy and radiation treatments in December.
"It's really made financial help for us during this time of unlimited medical bills that have come in,” said Stacy. “And all of the trips and everything, it saved us a ton of gas driving back and forth. It just has given Jeffrey a place to rest and also, as his mom, a place to just come in and be able to exhale and know that we're safe."
The house normally has room for 51 families living in community, sharing some common spaces, but the pandemic has forced that capacity to be capped at 33 families.
Social distancing requirements have eliminated large holiday gatherings in the house. Companies and organizations usually decorate up to 15 Christmas trees in the lobbies, but outside visitors are limited due to COVID-19 concerns. Donations must be dropped off outside.
Santa’s Workshop, where families have shopped for gifts in a large event with many volunteers, could not happen in 2020. Families window-shopped at a toy store set up in a lobby display case. Volunteers then prepared the gifts for delivery.
Families were provided with iPads and tablets to connect with families back home for virtual Christmas celebrations.
“A lot of hospitals will do their very best to try and return families home for the holidays as best as they can,” said Ogden. “Then what you're left with is the most critical care of children. Those are the families that will be with us through Christmas."
Ogden expected about 16 families staying at the house over Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Indiana has not held any of its usual large event fundraisers during the pandemic, so the house could especially use financial support at the end of 2020.