Volunteers put comfort food on the menu at Ronald McDonald House Red Deer

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Since Ronald McDonald House Red Deer opened 10 years ago, a group of dedicated volunteers has served the very definition of comfort food through the Home for Lunch program.

“It’s a really, really hands-on volunteer experience,” said Suzanne Pescod, director of marketing and communications for Ronald McDonald House Charities Alberta. The Ronald McDonald House provides temporary housing for families with children who are receiving medical care.

“The volunteers not only prepare the meals for the families, but often they sit down and enjoy a meal,” Pescod said. “They talk to families. They got to know their stories,” Pescod said.

Unfortunately, the pandemic and subsequent health restrictions prevented volunteers from traveling to Ronald McDonald House to prepare meals for two years. Instead, the donations were used to purchase dinners prepared from commercial kitchens and restaurants for delivery.

Now that the restrictions are lifted, volunteer kitchen teams are welcome again.

Red Deer Ronald McDonald House general manager Lori Rechlo said they have enough volunteers to cover meals about three days a week and more help would be welcome.

“We would like to go back to seven days a week,” Rechlo said.

“It was a huge program before COVID. It was a one month waiting list (for volunteers).

The kitchen teams came from all over. Some were family groups, others came from local churches or service clubs. Many had a specific day each month when they cooked food for 15-20 people.

Casserole, soups, chili, and tacos were all popular choices. Teams of four to eight people are ideal for having meals ready by 5:30 p.m. each day.

Susan Haggas and her family are very grateful for the meals they ate while their daughter Meghan was treated for high-risk leukemia at Calgary Children’s Hospital. Over the past 2 1/2 years there have been many stays at Ronald McDonald House Calgary.

“It was our home away from home. It was a really comfortable place for us,” she said.

The meals were deeply enjoyed by her family as Meghan, who is now in remission, received her treatments.

Susan now volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House in Red Deer, working the front desk, baking lunches and baking cookies. But she hopes to do even more cooking.

“Our whole family would love to come and cook. That would be great.”

For those who would like to help others, volunteering to cook meals means a lot to families staying at Ronald McDonald House, she said.

“We really appreciate when people come to cook. You don’t feel so alone. You feel like someone cares. It’s good.”

Pescod often hears how important the program has been to families.

“Families come from these different places, all over the province, often in emergency situations. They are already under incredible stress.

“Then they are often not in their home community. They are not going to leave the bedside to go shopping to prepare meals and support themselves while they are also dealing with this medical situation.

“Home for Dinner is a huge time saver, a huge money saver for families, and a piece of comfort after spending 14 hours in the hospital. It feels like home when you prepare that big meal in the kitchen.

“A lot of bands are inspired by their own family. So they offer to cook those comforting meals they have at home.

“They’re very aware that it’s a kid-friendly atmosphere, so sometimes they bring fun desserts and make sundaes.”

For more information on how to volunteer for Home for Dinner, go to rmhcalberta.org.

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