Representatives from Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC), St. John's Mercy Children's Hospital and McDonald's Corporation gathered to commemorate the ground breaking of the 300th Ronald McDonald House in the world.

Jerry Naunheim Jr.

By the end of this month, even more families who bring their seriously ill children to St. Louis for medical treatment will benefit from the remarkable hospitality of a Ronald McDonald House. That’s because a third home-away-from-home for families of sick kids will soon open on the campus of St. John’s Mercy Children’s Hospital.

“The three-story, 18,000-square-foot house, built on five acres donated by St. John’s, will be a haven for up to 20 families whose children are being treated at St. John’s, Ranken Jordan, Shriner’s Hospital for Children and other area hospitals,” says Dan Harbaugh, president of Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) of Metro St. Louis. With an average stay of about 10 days, more than 700 families will be helped each year, saving about $1 million a year.

The first St. Louis Ronald McDonald House, on West Pine, opened in 1981, followed by a Park Avenue location in 1996. “Since then, more than 30,000 families from all over the world have been provided with comfortable beds, home-cooked meals, hot showers, and the built-in support system of other families,” Harbaugh says. “Many long-term friendships have been formed among the families who stay with us. No one understands the vigil of caring for a sick child like someone who’s going through the same thing.”

Families who stay at RMHC are asked to pay no more than $5 per night. “Other houses across the country have had to raise the fee to $15 or $20, but we’ve able to keep the cost relatively low, thanks to the success of our fundraising efforts and the generosity of the St. Louis community,” Harbaugh says. “The fee is waived for families who can’t afford it—and more than 40 percent of our families can’t, because of mounting medical bills or financial hardship.”

In addition to the houses and eight extended-stay apartments, there are Ronald McDonald Family Rooms at St. John’s Mercy Children’s Hospital, St. Louis Children’s Hospital and SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center. The rooms provide meals, snacks, drinks and other amenities in the hospital for families visiting their kids.

The new $4.5 million structure was funded by a $7 million capital campaign, which will also support the expansion of the West Pine house. RMHC also received a $1 million gift from the St. Louis McDonald’s Co-Op, a lead gift from St. John’s Mercy, and a $900,000 challenge grant from the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation. “We also received generous donations from Emerson, the Dana Brown Charitable Trust Foundation, Packaging Concepts, Rent One, Cash’s Scrap Metal & Iron, and the Souers Family Trust,” Harbaugh says. The project was designed by Gray Design Group, built by Kadean Construction, and financed by UMB.

Ronald McDonald House is more than just a place to stay. “Knowing they have a safe, welcoming refuge gives our families one less thing to worry about at a stressful time in their lives,” Harbaugh says. “It re-energizes them for whatever the next day brings. But it’s the intangibles that matter most. Research shows having the family near helps kids heal better and faster. And it’s healing for the family, too, because they need to be close to their kids. That’s what drives our organization. We provide comfort and care to families in need every day of the year.”

A new Ronald McDonald House opens Sept. 29 on the campus of St. John’s Mercy Children’s Hospital. The 20-bedroom house is the third Ronald McDonald facility in St. Louis and the 300th worldwide.