Last First Friday Benefits Ronald McDonald House Charities of Tampa Bay
By Renee Burrell
Ronald McDonald and the Williams family of Lakeland (pictured l to r): Ronald McDonald holding baby Faith, Sheila, and Ben. Faith was born with a rare condition called, congenital chylothorax, which made it difficult for her to breathe. She was admitted to Tampa General Hospital where doctors experimented and treated her with Octreotide, a synthetic hormone used for a wide variety of adult-related conditions. RMHCTB gave Sheila and Ben a home for 3 months until Faith pulled through. "They were such an inspirational family!" said Lauren A. Sawyer Event Specialist for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Tampa Bay, Inc.
BELLEAIR - The last wine and cheese First Friday was held March 7 at the Belleview Biltmore and benefitted Ronald McDonald House Charities of Tampa Bay (RMHCTB), which operates two Houses in St. Petersburg and one in Tampa. The houses provide a total of 66 bedrooms with private baths for pediatric families who have ill or injured children in Tampa Bay hospitals. The mission of RHETT is to provide a "home away from home" for such families.
The RMHCTB are owned and operated by a non-profit Florida corporation whose Board of Trustees consist of parents, leaders, McDonald's Owner-Operators, McDonald's Corporation staff, medical professionals and other interested individuals in the community. The current Board includes Clearwater residents Edward Ameen present Chairman, Claudia Straw the Treasurer, and Tom Powers.
The Houses are supported entirely by donations from individuals, businesses and organizations. Over $700 was collected at the wine and cheese party and will go towards operations of House programs. According to Janice Davis, Executive Director & CEO of RMHCTB, "Although we ask $10 per family per night, actual costs are $50 per room per night and no family is turned away because of an inability to pay."
Thousands of families in crisis with sick little ones have been able to forgo accumulating lengthy hotel stays because of being welcomed to the Houses. "To date, we have provided comfort and care to more than 32,000 families since we opened our first House in 1980. We now have three Houses in our community providing a total of 66 private bedrooms, with plans for a fourth House within two years," according to Davis.
Volunteers and staff provide comfort and care to the parents, bolstering them so that they can in turn, supply love, nurturing and emotional support essential for their child's recovery from illness or injury.
St. Pete West opened in 1980. The 18 bedroom RMCHTB near All Children's Hospital opened in 1980, becoming Florida's first House.
A 14 bedroom House on Davis Islands adjacent to Tampa General Hospital followed in 1992, serving families of pediatric patients also being treated at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital and Shiners' Hospital.
In 1996, St. Pete East opened next to All Children's Hospital offering 34 bedrooms.
The first RMCHTB was created in 1974 in Philadelphia after Eagles player, Fred Hill, recognized the need for a place for families to stay after having his 3-year old daughter hospitalized with leukemia. Within 5 years ten more Houses had opened. Within 10 years, McDonald's restaurants and local communities founded 60 more Houses; and within 5 more years, 53 more were established. Today, there are 152 Ronald McDonald Houses in the United States with 90 spread throughout 25 countries around the world.
Davis said after the fundraiser, "We are honored and grateful to be the recipient of donations from the final First Friday event at the Belleview Biltmore. The generosity of both the community and the Belleview Biltmore is appreciated and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts."
Hotel staff said they'd like to resume the First Fridays again in the future and will announce their plans in The Gazette when they do so.
For more information on the several ways to volunteer at the Houses or to provide a gift in kind, or make a donation visit: www.rmhctampabay.com or call Davis, at (813) 258-6430 extension 1.
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