“Just like home.” IWK dietitians volunteer in Ronald McDonald Family Room

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When you’re away from home supporting a loved one in hospital or receiving care, a home-cooked meal made just for you can bring much needed comfort.

On Monday this week, a group of Clinical Nutrition staff washed their hands, tied their aprons and went to work as volunteers in the Ronald McDonald Family Room to feed IWK families. They are new participants to the Home For Dinner program. This program ensures that families who visit Ronald McDonald House or Family Rooms have access to a home-cooked, healthy meal after a long day spent at the hospital.

Joyce Ledwidge, a dietitian in the IWK’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit was one of Monday night’s helpers.

“Families who spend time here are under so much stress with having a sick family member and other stressors including financial and social,” says Ledwidge. “I think being able to come together to have a meal in a pleasant environment, maybe meet other families and have a good home cooked meal can provide a bit of reprieve and comfort.”

Volunteers are asked to provide and prepare a meal that can feed 30 people and for safety reason, the meal must be prepared on site. It’s a big commitment for volunteers, but one that brings many rewards.

“Being able to cook a meal for people is a way for us to give back and is an easy thing for us to do to help people who maybe haven’t had a home cooked meal in weeks,” says Maggie Chapman, a dietitian in Metabolic Genetics and the group’s grocery shopper. “We like to try to make everything from scratch so the meal can be just like home.”

The idea first came up at a dietitian’s social committee meeting. Colleagues around the table felt this would be a great opportunity to give back and pay it forward and so committed to four dinners a year on their own time, and with their own money.

“When an email to our group went out, I immediately thought about what an easy, fun and nice thing this would be to do,” says Chapman. “We all have different capacities to volunteer depending on the age and stages of our families, what we are interested in and how it fits with work commitments, so everyone contributes in different ways.”

In addition to providing a nice meal for families, the Clinical Nutrition staff also enjoy getting to spend time together with colleagues from across the organization.

“The day of the dinner we meet in the kitchen of the family room at 4:00 p.m. and just get at it! Chopping, cooking, cleaning up; it is really fun and is such a great way to socialize with the other dietitians,” says Ledwidge. “I think it’s a great team building event for such a good cause, there is always a lot of laughter involved!”

To sum up the experience, Ledwidge says “For me, it is a simple act of care, an easy meaningful way to make a day maybe a bit brighter for someone.”

The Home for Dinner Program ensures that families who visit us (in our Family Rooms, and in the House on Tower Rd.) have access to a home-cooked, healthy meal after a long day spent at the hospital.  The groups that volunteer bring all of the ingredients, and handle all aspects of preparing these meals for our families. This program runs year-round, and brings in a variety of volunteer groups, including families, friends, co-workers, sports teams, and more.

“Our incredible volunteer groups are at the heart of the Home For Dinner program,” says Alison Cogdon, director of programs, Ronald McDonald House Charities Atlantic. “The feedback that we receive from families has shown us that they are not only grateful for the comfort that these home-cooked meals provide, but also for the presence of these volunteers and the positive, welcoming atmosphere that they bring with them. Week after week, we’re moved and inspired by the effort and care of these groups. Without them, these meals wouldn’t be possible.”

For more information on this and other volunteer opportunities with RMHC Atlantic, visit www.rmhcatlantic.ca/volunteer.

Photo (L-R): Maggie Chapman, dietitian, Metabolic Genetics, Joyce Ledwidge, dietitian, Neonatal Intensive Care, Kate LeBlanc, dietitian, Mental Health & Addictions and Erin Walker, dietitian, Neurology.