A Day In the Life Of a Volunteer: Ronald McDonald House

We all know that feeling of cozying up in your blankets, relishing the sweet moments left of dreamland before your alarm goes off. But, then you open your eyes and realize you slept through the loud wakeup, and now all hell breaks loose because you realize you are late.

That’s how I imagine it feels when your child is sick, and needs immediate medical care, only one hundred times worse.

As quickly as possible, you gather as many belongings as you can, hustle out the door, and are on your way to the hospital. You have no idea how long your child will need to be treated or what the outcome of the treatment will be. All you know is that you need to be there.

And that is where the Ronald McDonald House in Seattle comes in to help you. The House offers families a small sense of “home away from home” while their children are being treated for serious illnesses at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The House can host up to 80 families every night who are supporting their loved one as they undergo treatment, who have left the lives they know for an unknown period of time.

The House has a paid staff that runs operations, but the rest of the house is supported by volunteers who may contribute their time individually or as part of a group. Individual positions range from volunteering at the Front Desk, being a Kitchen Supervisor, volunteering for an event, working in the Family Resource Center, being a van driver helping with transportation, to being a pantry organizer. Group volunteering activities include cooking a meal for families, planning an activity for kids, hosting a movie night, or participating in a work group.

Our team at Royal Cause had the privilege of volunteering to prepare and serve dinner through the Family Meal Program in early September.

I emailed Eleanor, the Activities Coordinator, Royal Cause’s interest in volunteering, and set up a date and time that worked for a few members of our group to attend an on-site orientation two weeks prior to the first meal. Post orientation, you are asked to plan a menu.

Terrence, the founder of Royal Cause has years of experience volunteering with kids at summer camps and suggested making an all-time favorite: Chicken Patty Parmesan. We prepared to serve these with toasted bread, a garden salad, watermelon and grapes, Hansen sodas, and Muddy Buddies for dessert.


Terrence, Founder of Royal Cause, getting ready to cook up some Chicken Patty Parmesan! 

When planning for how much of each ingredient needs to be purchased to make the appropriate proportions, there is a very useful link on The House’s website – the food quantity chart. Without this, it would have been much more difficult to determine the correct amount of salad, tomatoes, parmesan cheese, and other ingredients we needed for 110 people.

We found it easiest for one or two people to go to the grocery store (Costco or Cash ‘N Carry) to purchase all of the ingredients the day of the event. Terrence gave himself a couple hours at Cash ‘N Carry and then headed straight to the House to arrive by 3:00 p.m. Once you’re there, you’re connected with the Activities Coordinator (Sarah) and the Family Meal Program supervisor for the evening (Cheryl). Our group was on the smaller side (we had a total of five employees in attendance), so Sarah and Cheryl provided extra hands – thank you ladies very much!

From 3 pm to 5 pm, we baked the Chicken Patty Parmesan, washed all the produce for the salad, chilled the beverages, and mixed up the Muddy Buddies. Although emphasized plenty of times in orientation, posted on the wall, and in a brief overview when you first arrive, it is extremely important to wash your hands and continue to change your gloves when preparing different dishes. Several of the children being treated have compromised immune systems and may contract illnesses more easily. Sanitizing and keeping your hands clean is the best way to ensure everyone stays healthy.

Once 5:00 p.m. rolls around, your group will gather behind the “serving line” in cafeteria style and serve all the families coming through the line for an hour. It is truly a heart-warming experience. More than once, we had families come back to the line – not for second helpings, but to thank us for being there and preparing a home-cooked meal. Our team was fortunate to have Stefanie, an intern for Royal Cause and student at the University of Washington, join our volunteer group. After dinner was served, I asked Stefanie what her favorite part of volunteering was:

“The greatest part was seeing how appreciative everyone we served were. Even though all these families are going through a difficult time, I felt the kindness and thankfulness from each of the parents and children as I served them.


Stefanie, one of our Royal Cause interns, helping prepare Muddy Buddies for dessert.

Some families may not be in the House during the dinner hour. If there are any leftovers, your group may package them in individual plastic bags and place them in the “Family Meal Program” refrigerator. These leftovers may be used by any and all members of the house to prepare other meals.


Hailey, Co-Founder of Royal Cause, cleaning up after dinner.

I have participated in several individual volunteer opportunities but very few group opportunities. In addition to the great organization and clear instruction we received, this was a very enjoyable experience for the Royal Cause team and we look forward to preparing dinner in the future. We were able to talk and laugh with one another while we prepared dinner. This time provided a way for the Royal Cause Team to get to know each other in a team environment outside of the workplace. Many thanks to the Ronald McDonald House for providing this group volunteer opportunity.


Volunteers from the Royal Cause team, with a few extra helpers from Ronald McDonald House.

Volunteering with the Ronald McDonald House in Seattle is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. A volunteer coordinator is always available to contact with any questions or concerns. All the information and materials you could possibly need are provided for you and listed on the website. Once you arrive at the House, the Front Desk volunteers are extremely kind and helpful. Overall, the process and experience ran very smoothly. For that, I would like to thank the Ronald McDonald House staff and volunteers. Our team at Royal Cause had nothing but great things to say about the entire experience and we will definitely be back.

“Volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House touches lives.  You can see it in the faces of the heroic kids and caregivers in their daily battles.What  we do makes their day a little less stressful and creates a little more happiness, and it all starts with me. Imagine if the whole world did that?”

Keith Canedo-Seattle’s Ronald McDonald House- Family Meal Program -Volunteer Kitchen Supervisor

If You’re Interested in Volunteering with the Ronald McDonald House:

If you’re intrigued by the mission of the House and would like to sign up a group of friends to prepare and serve dinner or rally your co-workers for a corporate morale event, you want to start by viewing the meal program calendar. Choose a night that works for members of your group. If you serve dinner in House A, you’ll need to prepare to serve 110 people with a group size of 9 to 15. If you serve dinner in House C, you’ll prepare to serve 25 people with a group size of 3 to 8 people. Once you’ve selected a date, email the Activities Coordinator, Eleanor (eleanor@rmhcseattle.org) with the following:

  • Full name
  • Name of your group
  • Affiliation (company/organization/personal)
  • Cell phone number and work phone number
  • Email address
  • Address (company/organization/personal)

Note: It’s required that at least two people from your group attend the orientation and that you schedule it for at least two weeks prior to the first meal. During the orientation with Eleanor, we learned where the kitchen is located, how to get the food from the car to the kitchen (they have carts you may use!), what the meal you prepare should include, what happens if you run out of food, what you do with allergies and other dietary restrictions, and several other tidbits. It was extremely informative and helpful.

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