The Ronald McDonald House may be limiting gatherings right now, but it’s also offering guided tours.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the facility to observe numerous safety precautions. It has also meant that the house’s primary fundraiser, the Chocolate Fantasy Ball on Feb. 11, is embracing an online format that will include a virtual tour.
Event chair Phyllis Rogers sees a chocolate-covered opportunity to let people learn for themselves what the house is all about: providing a place of rest and reassurance for families with seriously ill or injured children needing hospital care in Little Rock.
Chocolate Fantasy Ball “attendees” will get a look at the five-story Ronald McDonald House that replaced the previous facility in 2016 following a capital campaign that helped pay for its construction.
The house is a few blocks from the front doors of Arkansas Children’s Hospital and a short drive from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and Baptist Health Medical Center. With 32 private guest suites, it offers families a comfortable respite from waiting rooms and features a kitchen where volunteers prepare dinner every night of the year.
“They don’t have to worry about expenses, food, cleanliness, sleeping,” Rogers says, “and they can keep the whole family together.”
The Ronald McDonald House has two kitchens, an 80-seat dining room, lounge areas, play spaces indoors and outdoors, a hair salon, laundry facilities, a library and basketball court among the features supporting more than 1,200 families a year.
If people can’t get together at the Chocolate Fantasy Ball and clink glasses, Rogers says, they can at least get an idea, thanks to the Facebook Live tour, of what their tickets can do for families in a crisis.
“If they haven’t seen it, they can actually see the house,” Rogers says. “It’s good to see where your money is going and what you’re supporting.”
The Ronald McDonald Family Rooms at UAMS offer 2,000 square feet of sleeping space, an open kitchen, bathroom and laundry facilities and more, allowing parents to be just steps away from their child’s hospital room.
Entry precautions, temperature checks and distancing measures are in place throughout the house, and some regular activities are on hold to keep social distance during the pandemic. Even the house dog Mac, a favorite with the children, has had to stay away.
“The house staff is so amazing trying to protect the families,” Rogers says.
In holding a virtual rather than live Chocolate Fantasy Ball, Rogers sees an opportunity in the event’s 19th annual iteration. Rather than gala attendees, families at the house and NICU parents at ACH, Baptist and UAMS will be treated to a dinner by legendary local chef Mary Beth Ringgold, as well as the music, lighting, linens and, of course, gourmet chocolates that make the ball so popular.
It may be harder to raise funds with a virtual ball, but it couldn’t be more important, especially for an event that provides 30% of the Ronald McDonald House funding, Rogers says.
“This is about the families. This is not about me,” she says. “That’s what the focus is, the families.”