The Blessing of Cooking for Strangers

21 07 2010
Nashville Ronald McDonald House

This is the back of the Ronald McDonald House in Nashville, Tennessee. It was opened in 1991 and was the 142 Ronald McDonald House built.

Tonight, for maybe the 100th time in my life, I spent my evening in the kitchen at the Nashville Ronald McDonald House.  I’ve been helping coordinate and cook meals there each month for the past seven years.  This short 1.5 hour time of service blesses me more each month than any other act of charity I do.

First a little background on the Nashville Ronald McDonald House.  (Check their website for more information.)

  • The house is available to families with children 18 years and younger who are receiving in/outpatient care at Nashville area hospitals and who live outside Davidson County.
  • There are 32 rooms, similar to a standard 2 bed hotel room.  All have private baths.
  • Three of those rooms are suites with kitchenettes for families with children who require isolation.
  • The requested fee is $15 per night, but no family is ever turned away if they can’t pay.  The actual cost of a room is over $83 per night. 
  • The average length of stay is 19 days.
  • There has been a wait list on average of 6 families each month for the past several years.
Second Kitchen

The house has two kitchens for the approximate 128 guests it can accommodate.

Second Kitchen

Food staples and supplies are available to all guests. Guests are also given space in the refrigerators and lockers for personal items.

Living Room

Two-story living area. Many homemade quilts and artwork grace the walls of the house.

Dining Room

Dining Room with a hand-painted mural of the "Giving Tree."

Playroom

They have an amazing playroom for kids of all ages.

Playroom

Another view of the playroom.

Playground

They also have a wonderful playground, much like you'd see at a McDonald's restaurant.

Breast Milk Freezer

They have a freezer dedicated to breast milk for those mom's whose newborns are in the NICU.

Calendar

They keep a monthly calendar posted in the kitchen so families know when and what meals are being provided each day. To schedule a time to provide a dinner, we often have to schedule months in advance.

Chores

Guests are expected to clean up after themselves in the common areas.

Our meal actually started a week ago, trying to coordinate the members of our house church group to provide the various dishes.  I often refer to this as “herding cats.”  There are a dozen families in our group so if each family provided one item, things would work wonderfully.  However, it is never that easy, and I often find myself stressing out trying to make sure all the food is provided for and that we have enough people to attend.  You would think that after years of doing this, I would realize by now that it always works out, and there is no reason for me to stress.  This is the first of my monthly reminders and blessings:  when we are fulfilling God’s desires for us to take care of those less fortunate, we need not worry about provision.

Cooking dinner

Echo and Summer work on making cookies for dessert.

Getting ice

My son, Caleb, getting ice for the drinks.

Kelly and Caleb

Kelly and Caleb at the end of the meal. We set out all the food on this island, and guests serve themselves. Our typical meal consists of two different chicken casseroles, mac & cheese, a lettuce salad, two different vegetable dishes, dinner rolls, and sweet tea.

The biggest blessing comes from our interactions with the residents who temporarily call this place “home.”  The stories I’ve heard over the years overwhelm my mind.  Some share openly of their trials and enjoy showing pictures of their precious children; these are usually the families whose children are on the mend and have positive outlooks for their futures.  Some walk with their heads down, afraid to look anyone in the eyes; these are often the families whose children are wavering on the thin line between life and death.

I can’t imagine being in their shoes:

  • “My 17 year-old had a heart transplant four months ago, and we’ll hopefully be going home this week.”
  • “My baby was born three months early.”
  • “My son was born without an anus and will require multiple surgeries before his first birthday.”
  • “My 4 day-old baby needs a new heart or he’ll die.”
  • “My eight year-old daughter is receiving chemo and radiation for her brain tumor.”

 These families are living a veritable hell seeing their children suffer through such horrific, and oftentimes life-threatening, diseases, and these are the ones offering a heartfelt thanks and a smile to us.  We are thanked for a warm meal that does not come from a fast food restaurant.  We are thanked for variety, healthy options, and delicious casseroles.  We are thanked for the fellowship we provide and being a sounding board for those who want to share their experiences.

 Our humble meal blesses these people in ways we don’t know, but we, too, are blessed. Through that one meal, God reminds me of several things each month.

  1. I should be more thankful for my good health and the good health of my family.  Our occasional colds and stomach bugs are nothing compared to what these families are going through.
  2. I take for granted that I live in a community with top-notch, world-class health care.  I don’t have to travel hundreds of miles and live off of fast food in a temporary residence to receive medical treatment.
  3. I really have no reason ever to complain about the ridiculous, insignificant, stupid things I find myself complaining about:  congested traffic, nothing good on TV, slow wireless connection, my kids waking up before 6:00 a.m.  God forgive me for my pettiness and help me to live a more grateful life!

 To backtrack a little, I first became hooked on the Ronald McDonald House through *link Hands On Nashville (HON), a “clearinghouse” for coordinating a wide array of volunteer efforts for various charities in and around Nashville.  HON is part of the *link HandsOn Network which has over 250 centers in 16 countries, 245 Action Centers in the US alone.  Most major cities have a local HandsOn Center.  If you are looking to volunteer in your community, but aren’t sure how to get started, HandsOn is the place to go.

Besides providing a meal for the residents of the Ronald McDonald House, there are other ways you can help.

  1. They will always take your money.
  2. You can provide household goods like shampoo, soap, cleaners, toilet paper, aluminum foil, baggies, etc.
  3. Save the pull tabs from soda cans.  The aluminum in the tab is more sanitary and is worth more than the whole can.  It takes 900 tabs to make one pound.
Pull Tab House

You can get these little Pull Tab Houses at your local Ronald McDonald House. Of course, you don't have to have one to save your tabs.

Pull Tab Collection

We collect pull tabs from friends and family and bring them each month.

Something so simple, whether it’s a meal or a soda can tab, can become something amazing and a blessing to many.

God bless,
Kelly

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10 responses

21 07 2010
Andy

I think I love this post even more (if possible) than the one that got you “freshly pressed”. You and your family are a real inspiration. May God continue to bless you as you so humbly and faithfully give glory to the Father through your good works here on earth!
Thank you for reminding me how blessed my family and I are for the often taken for granted blessing of health!

21 07 2010
Jill

Thanks for sharing – very interesting to see the inside and how it operates.

21 07 2010
Echo

Love this, Kelly! I think it is wonderful that you are using your blog to get the word out on these different charities! Keep up the good work. 🙂

21 07 2010
huddlestonk

Thanks for helping Echo! I appreciate your friendship and encouraging spirit.

21 07 2010
Tyanne

Hi Kelly,
This is so awesome. You and your family are absolutely amazing in the good things you do to help others.
I really enjoyed it when I volunteered. I need to get myself organized and begin doing it again. Could you email me the next date and time and I’ll see what I can do.
Thanks,
Tyanne

21 07 2010
huddlestonk

Thanks for reading Tyanne! I will absolutely include you in our next meal. If you want to put it on your calendar, it will be Friday, August 13.

23 07 2010
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29 08 2010
schleicherh

I would love to volunteer there! I just registered with Hands On Nashville about a month ago and their project calendar is always full of great service opportunities. Thanks for sharing!

10 09 2010
postonj

This post is so inspiring to me! I always love serving as much as possible, but I never know exactly where to get plugged in. I will definitely need to look into this place because it seems so warm and welcoming.

10 09 2010
huddlestonk

Jordyn, you would love the Ronald McDonald House! We should try to organize a FRA dinner there some night, maybe through the Service Club or National Honor Society.

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