Gerdin Family Foundation donates $350,000 to the Iowa City Ronald McDonald House

The Gerdin Family Foundation recently donated $350,000 to the Ronald McDonald House of Iowa City so that the community charity can fund its “refresh” program, including updates to its building.


Emily Wangen

The Iowa City Ronald McDonald House is seen on Monday, November 11, 2019. The Iowa City Ronald McDonald House, which is one of more than 360 locations in the U.S., received a $350,000 donation from the Gerdin family for their latest initiatives.

Katie Ann McCarver, News Editor

Thanks to a donation by the Gerdin Family Foundation, the Ronald McDonald House of Iowa City is moving forward with its refresh plan — one phase of a multifaceted project that aims to improve the living and meeting spaces of families combating child illness.

The Gerdin Family Foundation donated $350,000 to the Ronald McDonald House “refresh,” which includes new flooring in the entire building, as well as an updated HVAC system.

Since its establishment in 1985, the Iowa City chapter has seen a lot of wear and tear, said Ronald McDonald House Development Director Heather Croskrey.

“We like to say it’s loved so much it shows,” Croskrey said. “It’s time to update surfaces, to make some changes to some of our common areas to make sure that they are functional for today’s families, and to improve efficiency, safety, and security.”

Croskrey said the house has seen an increase in the severity of each family’s case, their length of stay, and the distance they’ve traveled for care since the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital opened.

The conversations that staff members have with each family require more private meeting spaces than are possible in the current configuration of the house, Croskrey said.

The grant will fund additional space, as well as surfaces that are easier to scrub instead of carpet, so the house can maintain the cleanest possible living environment for residents — especially because many have fragile immune systems, Croskrey said.

The 31 rooms in the Ronald McDonald House are usually booked, she added, but an average of 15 families are on the waitlist each night. Croskrey said she’s hopeful the refresh will improve the current building to allow expanded services and move in waitlisted families.

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“Our ideal world — we would be out of business,” Croskrey said. “We’re here to serve families that have sick children. When they get to go home, it’s a joyous occasion.”

Each family stays an average of 16 days and receives their own room, bathroom, and three meals a day, said Barbara Werning, the Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois Ronald McDonald House chapter’s executive director. There’s also a van to shuttle them to and from the hospital or parking passes if needed, she said.

“When our families arrive, we make a commitment to them that they are here until their child is discharged,” Werning said.

UI sophomore Kayla Conner began volunteering at the Iowa City Ronald McDonald House in fall 2018. While many of her responsibilities include cleaning and making dinner, she said her favorite part of the volunteer experience is actually engaging with the children she’s serving.

“It’s a different feeling when one of the kiddos asks you to play a game of foosball with them,” Conner said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “Their lives are hard enough, so it makes you feel really good knowing that some of them are comfortable enough to ask to hang out with you.”

Conner said she looks forward to stocking the toy closet, surprising a resident on their birthday with a decorated door, or reading the stories written on a whiteboard outside each room.

“All of these events are relatively small, but they make a big difference to the [children] and their families and that’s what really matters to me,” Conner said.

About half of those families are NICU patients, she said, 10 percent are oncology patients and another 8 to 10 percent likely suffer from club foot — a rare birth condition where one or both feet are inverted the wrong direction.

In the nearly 35 years since its foundation, the Iowa City Ronald McDonald House has seen a change in the families that require its services, Werning said. Oftentimes, today’s families have already been through a series of treatments elsewhere and are increasingly tired when they arrive. It’s more important than ever to provide the support they need, she added.

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“Families [in the house] are just as different as families are in the community,” Werning said. “From every walk of life, every socioeconomic group. illness doesn’t ask who you are, it just happens.”

Although the Gerdin Family Foundation previously partnered with Ronald McDonald House Charities for the St. Luke’s Family Room in Cedar Rapids, Croskrey said this will be the first time they fund a project at the Iowa City house.

Contrary to popular perception, McDonald’s funds less than 20 percent of the 100 percent donor-funded Iowa City charity, she said, and individual donations actually provide the most support.

The Gerdin grant provides the foundation the house needs to make necessary updates and expand its reach to meet the needs of a changing community, Werning said.

“It’s a very exciting time for the Ronald McDonald House,” Werning said. “We’re very optimistic. We’re very happy. And we’re very grateful to the Gerdin Family.”

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