There are a lot of worthwhile charities in this world, many of them founded by successful business entrepreneurs or their heirs.  This blog is about one such charity that has made a huge difference in the lives of our young patients with eating disorders: the Ronald McDonald House Portland (East).  

The very first Ronald McDonald House was opened in 1974 in Philadelphia at the impetus of a pro football player (who was also a parent of a sick child), a physician, a professional football team and a local McDonald’s franchise. Ten years later, the Ronald McDonald Charities were officially established in memory of Ray Croc, entrepreneur and founder of the McDonald’s food empire, who had apparently been a vocal proponent of children’s welfare. One by one, Ronald McDonald houses were established alongside children’s hospitals--- did you know that there is one in Essen, Germany and one in the Vatican, along with many other international sites?  In 2003, on her death Ray Croc’s widow, Joan Croc, bequeathed 60 million dollars to the charity. And while that’s a lot of money, the need for ongoing donations is real.

It is hard to overstate what the Portland East branch of the Ronald McDonald house has meant to our patients over the years. For those of you who don’t know, the House provides families of children who are ill and who live 30 miles away or more, with housing so that they are not separated.  For a very small (voluntary) contribution parents stay in warm, inviting and family friendly surroundings close to where their child is receiving specialized care.  Imagine what this means to parents who could never afford housing in a place away from home, much less housing that allows them to be minutes from their child’s bedside.  There they can do laundry, have access to a fully stocked kitchen for cooking, a library and quiet rooms. Parents have told me over and over again how they learn to be each other’s support systems and many forge friendships at the House that last long past their child’s stay in the hospital.

One year, an Oregon farmer, whose daughter was hospitalized with us, had a malfunction of his refrigeration compartment on his truck. He had driven with his load all the way to Portland from Southern Oregon when his daughter was urgently admitted. So that the farmer would not lose all of his produce, the staff at the House cleared out their refrigerators and freezers and helped him carry the berries to safety until his truck could be repaired.

And speaking of people who care, allow me to give a shout out from all Kartini Clinic staff to Tom Soma, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House charities, who has done an inspirational job and made our clinic and our patients feel part of a larger effort.  On this video Tom talks about seeing families demonstrate the qualities of what he calls “courage, perseverance, hope and generosity”.  Take a look.

Kartini families have populated the House from all over the country and, indeed, the world.  The patient he is referring to from Hong Kong was ours, for example.  Our families have donated room decorations and money, and have benefitted enormously.

The Kartini Clinic is a partner in this and contributes a modest amount to support our families who are housed there.  “Our” House is clean, beautifully decorated, steps away from the hospital and, most importantly, staffed by people who care.

Recently, for various clinical reasons, I asked a returning mother to consider getting a private apartment for the duration of her child’s stay this time.  Money was not the issue.  She became tearful, “please don't make me do that,” she said, “I will be so isolated.  Being at the House means that I have support, too.  When we returned to Portland this time [following treatment elsewhere] and I stepped in the door of the Ronald McDonald House I felt like I had come home.  I thought ‘I’m safe now.’ ”

That’s quite a tribute to Tom and his dedicated team of staff and volunteers, and one they richly deserve.