Ronald MacDonald House board member Cathy Bennett speaks Thursday at the regular weekly meeting of the Rotary Club of St. John’s. Bennett updated club members on the progress of the project. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram
When ground was broken in June on St. John’s Ronald McDonald House, board member Cathy Bennett knew — despite having already raised $6.5 million for construction — that bigger challenges still lay ahead.
“I think the biggest challenge for us is to make sure that we continue to prepare for opening the house. That we have all the contents ready. That we’ve thought of all the things we need to do, that we get our volunteer programs up and running,” she said Thursday afternoon after updating the Rotary Club of St. John’s on the house’s progress during the club’s weekly luncheon.
Unofficially known as “Our House,” the home — the first Ronald McDonald House in the province — will provide an inexpensive place to stay for families of sick children in the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre, which will be just a five-minute walk away. Construction is expected to be finished next June, and Bennett said they’re expecting to take about six to eight weeks to load the house with everything it needs to accommodate families, which they plan to do by next September.
The house has 14 suites for families, which can house four people apiece.
Bennett estimated the annual operating costs of the house will be between $500,000 and $600,000. A sizeable chunk will come from the charity — and more from operations of McDonald’s franchises in the area — but there will still need to be fundraising of about an estimated $200,000 to $400,000 every year, she said. Volunteers will also have to be enlisted — with background checks and health screening done.
‘We can’t say no to these families’
“If you sign up to do a meal in the House, and then you get a sniffle, well, you’re going to have to wait until the sniffles go away, because these are kids with compromised immune systems,” she said.
The gravity of the task, and the difference it will make in families’ lives, said Bennett, was why, when she was asked at the groundbreaking earlier this year if she was excited, she said no.
“I’ll be happy when we open it, and we have money in the bank, and families are in there.
“We’ve gotta have stuff in the bank for a rainy day. We can’t say to these families, ‘We’re going to take care of you for X number of years’ and not prepare for rainy days.”
What does have Bennett excited, she said, is that the support from the community has been phenomenal, with money still coming in.
“I can’t express enough, thank you, on behalf of the charity and the volunteers, how gratifying it is for us to see that you guys are supporting us, and we won’t let you down. We’ll make sure that we steward your money in a very responsible way, and I think you’ll be proud when you come to the house,” she told the Rotary Club.