Ronald McDonald House a vital resource for Wilsonians

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Having a child diagnosed with a life-threatening ailment is hard enough without the stress of trying to figure out how to balance daily life with hospitalization. That is where the Ronald McDonald House of Eastern North Carolina steps in.

“I think our headquarters says it best: ‘Our houses are built on the simple idea that nothing else should matter when a family is focused on the health of their child — not where they can afford to stay, where they will get their next meal or where they will lay their head at night to rest,’” Ronald McDonald House of Eastern North Carolina executive director Meghan Woolard said. “‘We believe that when a child is hospitalized the love and support of family is as powerful as the strongest medicine prescribed.’”

The organization has two facilities in Greenville that provided family housing for 577 nights in 2017 — including 31 Wilson families for a total of 430 nights — from a 50-county region.

Woolard said Wilson is the largest county served throughout the region that does not have a military installation.

“We see a lot of Wilson families,” she said.

And board treasurer Joey Lamm has made it his goal to raise awareness about the agency’s outreach to Wilson families with a booth at the Wilson Tobs game at 6 p.m. Thursday.

“The misconception is that the houses are for Pitt County residents, but it is basically everyone east of I-95,” Lamm said.

He hopes to spread the word and collect donations for the Ronald McDonald House during the baseball game.

Woolard said in addition to donations of household or food items, the need for financial contributions is especially important while the organization works to finish a remodel of the main house.

“We broke ground on our expansion in May of 2017 and finished that in March with a new kitchen and dining room, playroom, family pantry area and donation storage area along with seven bedrooms,” she said. “We’re currently running out of the expansion while the main house is remodeled and we’re hoping to finish that by the end of September or early October.”

The main house, which opened in 1987 with 18 rooms, was expanded to 21 rooms in the early 2000s. The remodel will expand the capacity to 25 bedrooms, including two larger suites to hold up to seven people each.

The Ronald McDonald House inside the James and Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital has six rooms available inside Vidant Medical Center and a house with a kitchen, dining room, laundry, playroom and bathrooms is a short walk from the hospital.

“We’d been talking about a remodel of our main house for quite a while, but when we heard from the administration about space within the children’s hospital, we put a hold on the expansion at the main house,” Woolard said. “We did a lot of research and worked with a global team to be one of two in-hospital Ronald McDonald Houses in the United States and we just celebrated our five-year anniversary.”

The in-hospital space is reserved for families with children in any of Vidant Medical Center’s pediatric units.

“In the first two years, we saw over 27,0000 people come through the doors there,” Woolard said. “We had no idea it was going to be that used or that we were going to have that many people seen in the new pediatric unit there. We were blown away by those numbers and decided it was time to remodel and expand the main house as well.”

The main house project came with a $4 million price tag with $2.2 million ready in reserve. Woolard said the difference has been bridged with grants, sponsorships and donations, including $10,000 from the Rotary Club of Greater Wilson for the new playroom.

“We understand that not everyone can commit to a $5,000 or $10,000 sponsorship, but we also have a wish list of items we use on a daily basis like snacks, cereal, bathroom supplies and towels,” Woolard said. “We are always looking for those items and even small donations like $10 helps pay for a family to stay one night.”

Lamm said he’s been blessed to have three healthy children and he’d love to organize a group of Wilson philanthropists to support the house with local fundraisers, donations and cooking meals for families at the house.

“There are smaller groups and individuals in Wilson that support the Ronald McDonald House, but I’d like to have a group that represents Wilson as a whole,” he said. “Oftentimes we’ll hear stories from parents who feel torn because they are spending so much time with the child who is hospitalized and feel like they are neglecting their other children, but the house ensures the whole family is together and focused on healing.”

For more information on the organization, visit www.rmhenc.org or call 252-847-5435. In addition to gift cards, donors also can search for the wish list for Ronald McDonald House of Eastern North Carolina on Amazon and have items shipped directly to the agency.