The mission and humanitarian message of the Ronald McDonald House emotionally moved the Glennville Rotarians when CEO/Executive Director Billy Sorochak shared the history and purpose of this home in Savannah, Georgia.
He explained how Ronald McDonald House evolved, beginning in 1972 when Leonard Tose, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, responded when the child of one of his players was diagnosed with Leukemia. When he witnessed how the parents of very sick children had little respite and comfort when they waited in anguish while their children were treated, he started with a donation of $125,000 to "go fix Leukemia."
That was in 1974 when he was told that it would take two million dollars to build a house for parents to stay. Undeterred with a meager phone campaign, Jimmy Murray, General Manager of the Eagles, approached Ray Kroc, the owner of McDonald's, to donate 25 cents of each milkshake sold. Kroc said he would instead donate all the money from each milkshake sold, and the first House was built.
"In 1987, the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) of the Coastal Empire in Savannah was built as the 100th house, and now there are 387 Ronald McDonald Houses worldwide," said Sorochak, further explaining that the individual Houses all have separate boards of directors, and their fundraisers differ.
"We serve families whose children, from newborn to 22 years of age, have every illness and injury, and one hundred percent of every penny raised stays in the Houses," he added, being a haven and resting place from the most critical cases to others less severe when there is a need to travel for the medical services at a hospital.
The Coastal Empire Ronald McDonald House region includes Georgia and South Carolina. In the last two years, 19 families from Tattnall County have been served. In these same last two years, 40 families from Toombs County and 15 families from Evans County have been served by the Savannah based RMH.
"One year, we had the parents of a baby who weighed 15 ounces stay with us. That child is now four years old. The average size of a baby in the NICU is 1 lb. 4 oz.," he said.
"Our 13-bedroom House is just 176 steps from the children's hospital, so every family who stays and is resting with us is just a phone call away from their child in the hospital," said Sorochak.
"In my 23 years with the RMH, we have lost 355 kids and we know all these families, but we have been there for the families of thousands who have been saved and are thriving today," he added.
Every family has their own room and private bath and has evening meals prepared for them. A laundry area is provided as well with washers and dryers.
"This respite area gives these parents the ability to be a family and adds some normalcy to their lives," he said.
During 2023, over 3600 families were touched by the services of the RMH, and 4250 family nights were stayed by 300 different families. Also, during 2022, a hospitality cart program with snacks, drinks, and toiletries was added at the hospital.
"During COVID, we were closed for ZERO days, and we were one of ten RMHs that did not have a COVID case. Also, when COVID hit home on March 16, 2020, not one of our full-time staff of five left. We are here for our families 365 days a year, 24/7," said Sorochak.
Fundraisers include the collection of drink pop tabs, and it takes 1128 tabs to equal a pound, and 40 cents a pound is the revenue. However, last year, $6000 in revenue was brought it with the sale of these drink pop tabs donated to the RMH. Our Wine, Women, and Shoes event in Savannah last year raised over $200,000.
Very few families from Chatham utilize the RMH, so the further away the families live, the more often they stay at the House. Also, sometimes patients stay at the House who have daily treatments at the hospital.
At times, some parents decline the comfort of the RMH since they feel others may need the services more than they do and have further distances to travel to the children's hospital.
Because of unauthorized individuals/families utilizing a free stay at the RMH in the past, a screening process in now used to make sure those staying there have children who are hospitalized.
"On average, we are turning away 16 families a day, and we use a critical ranking system of the sick child. We allow the families to stay as long as the child is critical. The average stay is 16 days and the longest has been 253 days," he said.
Sorochak explained the value of the House's therapy dog, Willow, an eight-year-old Australian Labradoodle who has an uncanny sense when someone needs her comfort and nearness.
A new capital campaign is $15 million for the building of a new 30-bedroom RMH in Savannah.
For those who would like to make a donation, make your check payable to the Ronald McDonald House of the Coastal Empire, 4710 Waters Ave., Savannah, GA 31404, or contact Director Billy Sorochak at 912-350-7641 or email email@example.com.