JOPLIN, Mo. - A recent tour at Ronald McDonald House in Joplin was extra special for some area students. Each year the Southeast Elementary School collects pop tabs, then donates them to the Ronald McDonald House so they can collect the money when the tabs are recycled. When the Southeast 4th graders brought the pop tabs to the home this year, they all knew somebody who had stayed at the home - their schools prekindergarten teacher.
In addition to donating the pop tabs, the students also received a tour from House Manager Shirley Hylton. While the Southeast school district covers a wide area, the elementary school is located in Weir, Kansas, and Hylton had discovered that in 18 years of operating in Joplin, nine families had stayed at the home for a total of 54 nights.
“Can you imagine for 54 nights, those poor families having to pay the expense of being in a hotel, and going out and eating three times a day?” Hylton asked the students. “That would be very, very expensive. We ask families, if they can, to make a donation of $10 a night. But if they can’t afford it they don’t have to pay a thing. Money doesn’t have anything to do with it. If you have a child 18 and under at the hospital, then you’re welcome at a Ronald McDonald House so that you can be close to that child.”
Since 1997, the Ronald McDonald House in Joplin has served more than 2,600 families for more than 27,000 nights. They have served families from 34 states and two foreign countries
“We see lots of families for different reasons from all over the place,” Hylton said. “They come and go like a revolving door. You never know who’s going to be here.”
In March 2013, for two-and-a-half weeks, Southeast PreK teacher Meagan Godfrey and her husband stayed at the home when their son, Tate, was born premature. Many of the students touring the Ronald McDonald House had Mrs. Godfrey as their teacher, and they all know Tate, who occasionally visits the school.
“I don’t think the kids realize when they are saving all of those pop tabs what they are really doing for families,” Mrs. Godfrey said. “So having that connection of knowing me, and me getting to stay there, I think that helps them as they get older. Having them donate those, it’s kind of like they helped pay for my stay at the Ronald McDonald House, so hopefully that’s a pretty cool feeling for them.
Hylton explained to the students the house can serve up to nine families at one time, but it costs more than $10 per night per family to operate the house, so they rely on the generosity of others.
“We’re 18 years old and in 18 years we’ve never bought a lightbulb due to the generosity of a local company - that saves us all kinds of money,” Hylton said. “Another thing that saves us money is that our House is ran 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by volunteers.”
Volunteers also sign up to prepare home cooked meals for families and every month a wish list is sent requesting specific items so that the home can keep their food pantry stocked up.
“The last thing families want to worry about when they’ve been at the hospital six or eight hours is, ‘now what am I going to eat or fix for the rest of my family?’” Hylton said. “We can take that burden off their shoulders. That’s just one less thing they have to worry about.”
The year Tate was born, Ronald McDonald House of Joplin started a new fundraiser - the Big Red Shoe Run as a fundraiser - a 15K, which Mrs. Godfrey ran in.
“It’s cool because Tate was born in March and they started it that September, so that September was their first one - a 15K - and I ran that,” Mrs. Godfrey said with enthusiasm. “He was born in March, and I did that, and we’ve done it every year since then.”
Tate and his parents ran the 1 Mile Fun Run in 2015. In March 2016, the Godfrey’s had twin girls born at 27.6 weeks. While Mrs. Godfrey and her husband stayed with relatives in Overland Park while their daughters, Mattie and Mia were being taken care of, she said they will always be grateful for the support they received from the Ronald McDonald House when Tate was born.
“This past year we again did the 1 Mile Fun Run with Tate, and we pushed the girls through it,” Mrs. Godfrey said. “So that’s something cool that we’ve been able to do because you pay for the run, so every year we feel like we’re giving something back by doing that.”
To learn more about Ronald McDonald House Charities of The Four-States, visit www.rmhjoplin.org