Casa Ronald McDonald in Barcelona celebrated its 14th birthday last month, and yet many of the city's residents have no idea that it exists, or understand the service it provides. In a nutshell, the institution provides a ‘home away from home’ for children suffering from serious illnesses and their families, while the children are undergoing treatment in nearby hospitals.
The first time I walked into Casa Ronald McDonald, I admittedly expected a sombre atmosphere where people spoke in whispers. However, to my great surprise, I was instead greeted by three adorable little girls tearing down the passageway towards the playroom, giggling and (good-naturedly) fighting over who gets to be the princess from Frozen. Volunteers were playing table football with two boys. Finger paintings and decorations lined the walls, rice was cooking in the kitchen and somebody was attempting to play ‘Jingle Bells’ on a piano down the hall.
The happy atmosphere belies the serious issues facing the people who stay here. One of the would-be Frozen princesses had lost all of her hair and wore a facemask. Mothers of cancer-suffering children were seated around a table in an adjoining room, quietly making woven bracelets to sell for €5 each. All the proceeds go to the Sant Joan de Deu Foundation's cancer research fund.
Pere Casas is the manager and his daughter is a cancer survivor. “In the outside world, these kids are often treated as enfermos ('sick people'),” he said. “In the hospital, they’re patients. Here, they’re just kids. The families are just families. They’re in the middle of possibly the worst moment of their lives, but we do everything we can to create an environment where they can live as normal a life as possible while the child receives treatment.”
The board of advisors involved in managing and fundraising for Casa Ronald McDonald.
Of course, many people hear the word ‘McDonald's’ and instantly think of Big Macs, the infamous golden arches and big bucks. However, the home operates with only three paid employees: Pere, Gisela Ibañez (Assistant Manager) and Conchita Jimenez (Secretary). Everyone else who helps is a volunteer. The charity functions independently from the McDonald’s restaurant corporation. The corporation pays to build and maintain the infrastructure of the houses themselves, and each local McDonald's franchise donates a small portion of their profits to the charity once they reach a certain sales threshold. Apart from this support, the home relies on its own funds to cover the expense of providing comfortable living facilities, for free, for up to 15 families from around the world. The families pay for and cook their own food, but the rest of their needs are met by Casa Ronald McDonald. Some families are there for a week, some for years—last year alone, 131 families came to stay.
The board is also composed of volunteers—local business owners who donate their time to make management decisions and organise fundraising events. Victor Horcasitas, President of the American Society of Barcelona, is also Vice President of the board at Casa Ronald McDonald. He is a constant physical presence at the home and is one of the most vocal proponents of the work that they do.
Horcasitas stressed the importance of community support. “All the resources that we provide for the families have to come from somewhere. We need local volunteers. Not only to help run events and play games with the kids, although hanging out with the kids is always the best part. We also need more help from people who have specific skill sets, such as marketing skills, search engine optimisation and, of course, fundraising.”
So where does the money come from to support the families and maintain 1,535 square metres of living space? Casa Ronald McDonald organises concerts, family-friendly events, 10k runs, Cinco de Mayo and Fourth of July celebrations (in conjunction with the American Society and MexCat nonprofit organisations) and more. The volunteers run them all.
The jewel in the crown of Casa Ronald McDonald's activity schedule is their annual Charity Gala. This year, the event will take place on June 1st at Luz de Gas (Muntaner 246), with rock band Hotel Cochambre confirmed to headline. Advance tickets are available through www.casaronaldbarcelona.org and www.amersoc.com. On the website you can also take a virtual tour of the home and find out how to help if you’d like to either donate or volunteer.