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Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central PA: More than just a place to stay

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For more than 30 years, the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Pennsylvania has been helping seriously ill children and their families. Its Ronald McDonald House, which sits just across the street from Penn State Hershey Medical Center, provides families with hope, and a place to stay.

Tomorrow night, hundreds will gather for the Moonlight Gala. It's a benefit to raise money for the home, which operates on donations and volunteers, and helps families through some of the toughest times.


"When he's healthy, he's okay. He doesn't need supplemental oxygen.  But, the smallest cold kinda brings him down enough that he's on oxygen," says Emmy Sasala. Her son Van has down syndrome, and he's been in and out of Penn State Hershey Medical Center for treatments and surgeries for associated complications.

One of those complications-- Tracheomalasia.  It's a condition that leaves Van struggling to find oxygen as his airways become restricted. When Van has to stay at the medical center for treatments or surgeries, his brother Lax is always by his side.

"Van would just light up. Even though he wasn't feeling that well, and he had cords everywhere, we would sit Lax in the hospital bed with him when it was allowed and appropriate, and there was a lot of healing power to it," adds Sasala.

But having his brother Lax by his side wasn't always easy.  He and his family live in York, and the drive, coupled with the stress of Van's treatments and surgeries, proved to be taxing.

Sasala remembered a nurse mentioning the Ronald McDonald House. "And knowing he was having surgery and gonna be in the hospital a few days, I looked online, and researched it a little bit."

Emmy, like many others who check into the Ronald McDonald House, was surprised to learn they can stay at the house free of charge, for as long as their child is a patient. The only requirement is that they live more than 30 minutes away from the medical center.  Last year alone, 900 families slept at the house across from the center. For those families, it's a home away from home.

"Besides just staying here, the meals that are provided are beneficial because it gives you that chance to come out.  It's kinda a gathering time for families.  That meal time, when people are coming and taking a break, just gives you the support by knowing we're all in it together. And it kinda gives us hope," says Sasala.

"Some of the families will show up here and it's not in their plan to be away from home for so many days. Some show up, and they don't even have a change of clothing with them," says Ann Hughes, the executive director of Ronald McDonald Charities of Central Pennsylvania.

Thanks to community donations, that is never a problem. Besides clothing, there are rooms upon rooms of donations.  Volunteers also show up daily at the Ronald McDonald house to work with the families staying there.

"And a team of volunteers making the meals are strangers.  They're taking their time out of their lives to support somebody that they don't know, but they know it's needed.  It's appreciated," says Sasala.

Ann Hughes adds, "There are other donated items. Cleaning supplies, and toiletries that volunteers pre-sort, and organize." There's another room filled with toys. Everything is donated, and given to patients and their siblings when they arrive at the home.

It's a magical place, run by 315 volunteers, and off those donations from the community.

"It's interesting, because sometimes you don't even realize the impact you're having on a family. You simplify it, saying all we did was provide them with a bed for a night. But that one night might have been the worst night of their life," says Hughes.


To learn more about Ronald McDonald Charities of Central Pennsylvania, or to donate or volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House, click here.