Sheltered Diaries: Pandemic or Not, Ronald McDonald House Serves Families

What do you do when your nonprofit serves the families of some of the sickest, most vulnerable people in town during a pandemic – and your usual fundraising is less available because of the aforementioned pandemic?

It’s a scenario being played out all over Dallas, but particularly so at the Ronald McDonald House of Dallas, where agency leaders are still helping the families of young patients, but are looking at a 25% decrease on their $3.4 million budget because of the loss of fundraising revenue, as well as a dry volunteer pool because of the need to keep families safe.

With all of that, though, they’ve managed to continue to provide services without layoffs or salary cuts.

Among the fundraisers that have had to be canceled or indefinitely postponed are the Under the Moonlight Gala, and the Young Friends of Ronald McDonald House Party. The nonprofit is also prepping for a golf tournament and the beloved Trains at NorthPark – but those, too, will look different this year.

We talked to Ronald McDonald House of Dallas’ CEO Jill Cumnock about the pandemic’s impact on the organization, and the adjustments they’ve had to make.

Jill Cumnock

PN: How has the pandemic impacted Ronald McDonald House?

JC: “COVID-19 has changed the way we operate but has not reduced the importance of what we do for families.  Our families are now having to deal with ​COVID-19 ​restrictions and policies in addition to the challenge of having a very sick or injured child.  

We have had to implement many new protocols to help insure the health and safety of our families and staff.  We had to suspend our volunteers and cooking/activity groups beginning on March 21 and suspended intakes of new families for 10 weeks.  We are currently in phase 3 of our 4 phased reinstatement plan and are slowly and cautiously admitting new families. 

Our mission is keeping families together, inspiring strength, and giving love and support to families whose children are receiving essential medical care. While we are still able to do that, it is so very different.  A big part of what makes our organization special is our volunteers and groups and without them the House has a very different feel.  We really miss them and our families miss all the activities.  Our priority now is making sure that we keep everyone healthy and that our House remains COVID free.”

PN: How do you operate without the volunteers? I imagine that the needs patients and their families have haven’t disappeared during the pandemic.  

JC: “You are correct – the needs of our patients and families haven’t changed and operating without our volunteers is definitely a challenge.  We cross-trained all of our staff back in March so we can all fill in wherever needed.  Our staff has shown great flexibility and a willingness to do whatever is needed to help us take care of the families we serve.  

We have adjusted our work hours if needed to be available to help serve dinner and clean up afterward.  The majority of our meals are now being catered and provided in single-serve containers.  Our families now eat meals either in their rooms or outside in our pavilion while social distancing from other families.” 

PN: Some of your biggest fundraisers are postponed or canceled, and things are looking dicey for some of the most cherished ones, depending on whether we can flatten the curve. How are you going to pivot to raise those funds? 

JC: “Fundraising during this pandemic has been one of our biggest challenges ​but I wouldn’t say things are dicey for all of our fundraisers. We are still actively planning with the Addison Rotary Club the ARO golf tournament on September 14 which will be held entirely outside at Gleneagles Country Club.

And we have had great conversations with NorthPark regarding Trains at NorthPark and are planning on some new social distancing and safety policies, it may be a different year but still impactful for our families and sponsors. 

That said, we are currently anticipating about a 25% decrease in revenue for the year – possibly more – and we are trying to reduce expenses as much as possible.  But, we still have a large facility to operate.  We are reaching out to our donors and volunteers and encouraging those that are in a position to make a donation to do so. 

We don’t have a product or service to sell, we are dependent upon our community to make it possible for us to help the families who need our services.  We are also looking more to foundations for support right now.”

PN: Personally, how has your life changed during the pandemic? 

JC: “My life has changed probably similar to most people.  I am working a combination of at-home and at RMHD.  It has been challenging to figure out how to provide support to our staff and to my family.  My son came home early from college but has since returned.  I definitely enjoyed the extra time with him as well as with my daughter who came over for dinner more often.  I have loved the family time we have been able to have and I became a better basketball player as this was our after-dinner family activity. 

PN: What is one thing you miss the most right now? 

JC: “I think the thing I miss most is a sense of normalcy.  I am looking forward to the day when there are no conversations about COVID-19.”

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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