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The new program bringing families comfort during COVID

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A new program is not only helping to ease the burden for parents and carers with hospitalised children—it’s providing much-needed support to Canberra restaurants and cafes doing it tough in the difficult COVID-19 conditions.

For young mum Natalie, Ronald McDonald House Canberra and its new Mobile Meals from the Heart program has been “a lifesaver” during her record-breaking stay of eight months while she cares for her seriously ill baby daughter.

Twice a week Natalie, 24, of Tumut, looks forward to meals from some of Canberra’s top restaurants, delivered during COVID-19 restrictions and generously paid for by the community.

Before the virus arrived in Canberra, Ronald McDonald House ran a ‘Meals from the Heart’ program twice a week where community and corporate groups would come and cook for families.

However, with visiting restrictions currently in place, that program is on hold to ensure a safe environment for families of children with compromised immune systems.

Local restaurants taking part in the new mobile program include Amici Bar, Bleachers Bar, Caribou Kingston, Hotel Realm, Siren Bar and The District.

Meals are all sponsored by online public donations, with people able to choose between donating $40 to cover a meal for one family, $120 for three families, or $250 for all families staying at Ronald McDonald House (RMH). Donations can be one-off or yearly.

Amici Bar Credit: Ashley St George

RMH Canberra executive officer Michelle McCormack says not only is the new program helping to ease the burden for parents and carers with hospitalised children, it is providing much-needed support to local restaurants and cafes doing it tough during the precarious COVID-19 economic conditions.

“For a family staying with us to know dinner is taken care of, for even just one night, can mean the world,” says Michelle.

Indeed, having a warm meal waiting for her at the end of the day has meant Natalie can put all her focus into caring for eight-month-old Addison, who has been hospitalised since her birth last September at Canberra’s Centenary Hospital for Women and Children.

Natalie’s daughter Addison

“It means that for two nights a week I don’t have to worry about what I am going to cook for dinner or go the shops to get groceries,” says Natalie.

“It has been a lifesaver for me and many other families who I now have lifelong friendships with.”

Early in her pregnancy, it was identified that Natalie’s baby had serious bowel issues. Soon after birth, Addison had the first of five surgeries and multiple medical procedures to treat jujenal atresia, a birth defect commonly referred to as short bowel syndrome or short gut.

“We have been extremely lucky that the house here in Canberra is connected to the hospital, making seeing Addison very easy and convenient,” Natalie says.

“I’ve very rarely left the hospital, and if I did it was when she was a lot younger and didn’t need me here 24/7.”

Natalie is now the longest staying guest at RMH Canberra, which provides accommodation within the hospital for families with seriously ill children from regional NSW.

If these challenges weren’t enough to deal with, the Covid-19 pandemic has added another layer of stress with visitor restrictions for patients.

“It has been a really challenging time mentally and physically,” Natalie says.

She encourages people to donate to RMH Canberra.

“We are so grateful to those who donate and also to the volunteers who give their time to make it such a great place to stay. Families like myself would be left broke, stressed and very depressed if it weren’t for people donating in any kind of way.”

“I have also spoken to many volunteers and they always say they get benefits such as friendship from donating their time here as well as helping us families out.”

For Natalie, the end of her lengthy stay is in sight and she looks forward to seeing son Zakary, who has been cared for by her parents since Addison’s birth. Her daughter may be discharged within eight weeks and sent home with a pump to supply nutrition through a central line for an extended time.

“There is no timeframe for her recovery as with short gut children, it is just a matter of time to see whether or not their condition improves as the bowel grows,” Natalie says.

Despite the challenges of the past eight months, Natalie says she will miss the house and everybody in it once we go home.

“The staff at the house have been more than excellent, they go above and beyond to help us in any way possible and make us feel right at home.”

Want to donate?

Donate to the Mobile Meals from the Heart program by visiting rmhc.org.au/actmeals and selecting your preferred restaurant and amount.

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