Children at the Ronald McDonald House of Greater Cincinnati. Photo courtesy of RMHC.
By Kaitlyn McCormick
Nonprofit Sector News
When the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown hit in March 2020, most nonprofits that provided services could not just stop operating, and many organizations had to find new ways to provide for their beneficiaries in light of many uncertainties.
In November of 2020, the Ronald McDonald House of Greater Cincinnati finally celebrated a grand opening after undertaking a 99-room expansion, making it the largest house in the now international organization. The process of getting the spaces filled, however, was staggered due to health safety measures and the organization’s unique job providing services to families of sick kids receiving treatment across the street at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
Sarah Curry Rathel, communications manager for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Cincinnati, explained COVID-19’s impact on the house’s operations, especially in terms of funding. “One of the ways that we get people involved in the house is by inviting them in…to make a meal for families, to hold an activity…do a group work where they come in and maybe work on a project for us. …With COVID we had to stop doing that.”
She explained that external events such as their golf tournament and gala were canceled for two years, taking a toll on funding. Luckily, Rathel said, community engagement and internal fundraisers were able to fill the gaps. “[Our 990s] look great over those years. And that is truly thanks to the caring individuals who realized, ‘Hey, they still have to make this possible.’”
While Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) are commonly known for their physical houses that provide places for families to stay while children are in treatment, the organization provides other services, including more than 265 Ronald McDonald Family Rooms and more than 40 Ronald McDonald Mobile Care Units globally.
The new global Chief Operating Officer (COO) of RMHC, Rodney Jordan, explained that, much like the Cincinnati house, the entire organization had to band together to find innovative ways to service families as well as healthcare workers because of complications caused by the pandemic.
Jordan explained that during the height of the pandemic the RMHC system “strategically pivoted” to repurpose spaces not being used for families to support healthcare delivery and front-line workers. He said that the organization also provided more than 54,000 hotel night stays for families when space was unavailable or House and Family Programs were closed in the pandemic.
(Jordan joined RMHC in June 2022, from an executive position at McDonald’s. He previously had been a manager at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Coca-Cola, and United Parcel Service.)
The Cincinnati House, like most US nonprofits, also experienced difficulty and changes in fundraising efforts.
Jordan said, “RMHC relies on millions of donations each year. Over the course of the pandemic, Chapters have experienced financial strains due to the cancellations of in-person fundraising events and reduced volunteer numbers, which greatly impacted meal programs and other important functions.” He further explained that the pandemic pushed RMHC Chapters around the world to lean digitally for fundraising.
While the expansion at the House in Cincinnati makes it the largest, RMHC as a whole has continued to grow, with more than 700 programs globally, including 10 new Family rooms and 10 new House programs opening in 2021.
Outside of physical care spaces, Ronald McDonald House Chapters in the US have initiated take-home kits, which may include items such as grocery and gas gift cards, toothpaste, shelf-stable meals and more, as a means to “help ease the transition for families going home from an RMHC program,” Jordan said. Some chapters are also focusing on the mental health needs of children and their families, using podcasts, apps and staff education efforts.
As the newly appointed COO of RMHC, Jordan said he is “incredibly proud and excited” by the continuous work the organization is doing to expand its impact.