Cathy Loblaw is chief executive officer of Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) Canada, based in Toronto.
Chatters: 2017 was an incredible year. Can you share one of your highlights from the past year?
Cathy: My highlight was serving as many families as we could! Last year we served 26, 296 families across Canada, which was a 37% increase over the previous year. We look at the total numbers in order to monitor the growth and predict future needs, but we never lose sight of the fact that regardless of the numbers, we are serving and focusing on one family at a time.
This is a big accomplishment, but do you even get to celebrate?
We are grateful for how many we can help, however what inspires and overwhelms us at the same time is the continuing need. Last year the number of families’ waitlisted were 2,604. Ultimately, we were unable to accommodate 3,384 families and this pushes us to fundraise in order to help even more families.
When the houses are full, the hospitals often stop referring families to us, so we are not always fully aware of just how many families still need our support.
What are some of the reasons a family will be referred to the house?
It can be a whole range of things but mainly things like accidents, a disease diagnosis or sickness. For most of our families this is a very unexpected journey in their life. No one ever expects to have a sick child. And when they do, we are so grateful to have RMHC available to support them.
Are the houses filling up more because there are more childhood sicknesses?
When I first joined Ronald McDonald House in 2010 I also wondered what was driving the growth? Are there more sick kids? Is the diagnosis better and that’s what’s bringing more families in?
We asked our research partners at Impact and they came back with some compelling information. The reason for more reliance on Ronald McDonald Houses is largely due to medical advances. The wonderful news is more children are healing and getting better.
In days gone by, children who took very sick often didn’t get better. Now healing rates are up over 80 percent for many childhood cancers, as just one example. However, the healing process is taking more treatments, over longer periods of time.
The demand for RMHC is a direct result of healing and medical advances at the hospital. At children’s hospitals across Canada family centered care is the new normal, and RMHC is part of the continuum of care that helps enable family centered care with our hospital partners. Remarkably, 70% of Canadians live outside a community with a children’s hospital and so travel to receive the care and specialty treatment that a sick child may need has become part of our health care system. And when families have to travel they leave behind home, family, jobs and many of their support systems, at a time when they need it most. This is where RMHC comes in. We provide a ‘home away from home’ that helps families on their healing journey and keeps the whole family together.
As one mom shared with us: “Ronald McDonald House is a place you want to know is there but do not want to have to use.”
How much do the houses rely on donations in order to operate?
They rely on the donations more than you would expect. There are 13 RMHC chapters across Canada and each chapter has one or more Houses (just steps away from the Hospital) Family Rooms (mini-House right inside the Hospital) or a Care Mobile (40’ mobile health unit that travels to communities of need). McDonalds is our largest donor, and founding and forever partner, contributing 10 million dollars every year, which is specifically used for operational costs, building and expansions. That represents about 30 % of operating costs and rest is raised by fundraising.
On average what is the annual operational cost for House Chapters?
The costs vary depending on the number of bedrooms each House has, our range is 13 – 96 bedrooms. Last year operating costs for all the RMHC Chapters in Canada was $25.1 million dollars. It takes a substantial amount to provide the level of support the families need.
Can anyone come and take a house tour?
Yes they can and we really encourage it. They’ll see there are bedrooms, a kitchen and dining room, laundry facilities and workout rooms, a craft and games area and storage…to name just a few features. Ronald McDonald House is a true home away from home, and this is a big reason why we are able to provide a sense of normalcy to families dealing with a sickness in their family. They can be a very peaceful place to be, a warm and friendly environment, where families can meet and support each other and volunteers and staff can offer important support services.
What is the average cost per night for a family to stay at Ronald McDonald House?
On average the cost is $189 per room per night. We ask families to contribute $11 to help offset this cost, but no family is turned away if they are unable to pay this rate. The vision of Ronald McDonald Houses is that of a “community house”, being supported by businesses and volunteers within the community.
Are there ways individuals can easily fundraise?
You bet and this is why we created Make Fun Matter. It was designed to give people a simple, personal way to give back. If you and your girlfriends want to do a garage sale, a car wash or some kind of dinner party, you can donate those funds and they’ll go directly to the house. Take a look around at https://www.rmhccanada.ca/fundraisers?fc=9.
You mentioned despite being able to really impact families lives, there are still some real challenges and burdens. What did you mean?
There is a misconception out there that McDonalds covers all our costs. They are an amazing committed donor and our longest and largest donor by far. However due to the sheer size of the entire Canadian operation, it takes many more dollars to keep the houses functioning. We mean it when we tell people, every donation matters, every dollar matters.
Are there growth plans you can share with our readers?
We are expecting to grow to 705 bedrooms and 32 family rooms by the end of 2022.
What does it mean to you personally to spend your career supporting RMHC?
It keeps me grounded and it’s a privilege to go to work every day. I am part of the bridge and partner between caring companies who want to make a difference and families who need it. I don’t know how you ever stop caring or contributing to RMHC and our families.
Aside from funds, what do you believe Houses and their teams need most at this time?
I’d have to say understanding of the mission. We have high awareness but we need understanding that this is a home away from home for families while their sick child is being treated. It’s serving real families. Families from your community, your life – it’s your neighbors and your colleagues. The more you understand, the more you will want to give. RMHC is a mission that is serving each of us, on a different day.
Can you describe some extraordinary volunteers?
Some people have such a high level of giving you forget they are volunteers. Across Canada did you know that we have 15, 793 volunteers? Last year they donated 258,485 hours. The number of unsung heroes is amazing and the role they play helps us deliver our mission each and every day. At one House, we have a volunteer who has been with us for 32 years. He comes every Wednesday and does a wood working program for the kids and their siblings. Another volunteer, Velda comes once a week and at last count she has baked 32,00 cookies.
We wish to say thank you to Cathy Loblaw for sharing with us and we invite you all to join us for our National Fundraising Event on May 26, 2018. All Chatters Salons will be supporting A Beautiful Cause. More details to come.
Ronald McDonald House Red Deer
Ronald McDonald House in a family room inside Ronald McDonald House Windsor, Ontario
Families you have helped to support.
Ronald McDonald House Calgary