#24: Volunteering at the Ronald McDonald house

Posted by Megan on October 20th, 2011

When a clown invites you to come to his house for dinner – you don’t ask questions!  While serving as Volunteer Girl at my company’s Volunteer Fair, the Ronald McDonald asked if I would be interested in hosting dinner at his house located in Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. The program, called Cooks for Kids, coordinates volunteer groups to buy, cook and serve meals to the guests at the Ronald McDonald house.

I was honored when Ronald asked me to come over for dinner.

Have you ever gone through a tough time and your neighbors and friends rally around you with casserole dishes and homemade lasagna? Cooks for Kids is kind of like that – but for strangers who are going through one of the most challenging and serious ordeals possible; caring for a critically ill child.

 As the activity coordinator, I was responsible for recruiting a team of 10 volunteers to help cook and serve the menu of our choice. My first step was to draft a ringer. Since my culinary skills are limited (for evidence, read the Cook Book Lottery), I needed to find a cook with skills and enthusiasm…. I needed Rhonda.

Help me Rhonda! Once I recruited our head chef Rhonda, the rest was easy!

Rhonda is famous for her cooking skills. She often brings extravagant meals to work and feeds dozens of friends and colleagues just because she loves to cook and likes to share her talents. Somehow when Rhonda brings food, our standard lunch table of 5-6 swells to at least a dozen.

After recruiting Rhonda, I made the rounds around the office to find the rest of my crew. To my surprise, it was incredibly easy to find volunteers. Soon my roster was complete; Sarah, Mike, Rebecca and her kids, Jessica, Rich, Colleen and Marisa were the members of the superstar team.

I worked with Rhonda ahead of time to create a menu that would be delicious and easy to prepare. We decided on Crescent roll sloppy joes (akaMilwaukeepizza), green beans, sweet potato fries and fruit salad. A few days prior to the big event, I recruited Brustice to take me to Costco to get all the grub. I figured it would be more economical and less work for everyone if I purchased all the food, then divvied up the expenses between the volunteers. This was a good plan in theory… except for one tiny oversight. I bought about 30 pounds worth of frozen food and it was supposed to fit in here:



Three bags of ice, a borrowed cooler and an hour later I had a temporary storage option. The following day I completely took over the freezer in on my floors break room with frozen beans and fries where they squatted for two more days.

The day of the event, Rhonda and I arrived at about 4:30 to begin cooking. We had done some of the prepping at home so it wouldn’t take long to prepare the meal onsite. The rest of the volunteers trickled in over the next half hour. The kitchen was enormous. It was bigger than the Duggars’. It had three ovens, two range tops, two large refrigerators/freezers, three dishwashers, two microwaves and a very large pantry.

We all quickly settled into tasks. Rhonda served as head chef, and coordinated jobs for each volunteer. Jessica was the master fry baker, Marisa was the go-to crescent roll opener/fruit salad scooper, Rich did tons of dishes, Sarah was the green bean nuker and I was the person that was always in the way. It’s funny how that works. Sometimes you just have to organize things and let them roll forward on their own trajectory.

Rebecca stirs the ground beef. This is the filling to Rhonda's world famous Milwaukee pizza.


All of the recipes were infused with extra love. Rhonda and Mike demonstrate.


Colleen and Marisa (wo)maned the ovens.


I learned a lot of new things. For instance, an ice cream pail is valuable multi-purpose piece of kitchenware. Who knew!

 The atmosphere was great. I love volunteering with my colleagues because you get to work together on something completely un-work related AND since I was the volunteer coordinator I got to boss around my boss! Bonus!

We served our meal for 90 minutes to the families of children who are in critical care and intensive care units. Each person represented a parent, sibling or loved one of a child who is fighting for their life. Even though I can’t heal their child, I can show some love and kindness through a simple meal. Every Ronald McDonald guest thanked us for our time. Even though our task was simple, I could feel the difference we were making.

The finished product. Not particularly beautiful – but damn tasty!

I pray no one I know will ever be a guest of the Ronald McDonald house, but it’s comforting to know that resources are there to provide support to families who are caring for a severely sick child.

My group is already planning another visit to cook for the Ronald McDonald house, and I’m also toying with the idea of planning a separate trip with my friends. It truly was a fun, easy way to make a difference.

For more on volunteering at the Ronald McDonald house visit rmhtwincities.org.

Our team had a great experience volunteering at the Ronald McDonald house. You can try it too. Find out more at rmhtwincities.org.


  • © 2011 Megan Steil