St. Louis hospital to welcome world's 300th Ronald McDonald House

Friday, September 17, 2010 | 12:00 p.m. CDT

CREVE COEUR — Lynn Freese, a retired teacher and the mother of Cardinals third baseman David Freese, is looking forward to an opening day of a different type on Sept. 29.

That's when a new Ronald McDonald House opens to help families of children who are ill at west St. Louis County hospitals. The Ronald McDonald House is the third in St. Louis and the 300th in the world.

The $4.5 million structure of more than 18,000 square feet will be at Ballas and Conway Roads in Creve Coeur, on the south side of St. John's Mercy Medical Center's campus.

Lynn Freese, of Wildwood, volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House on West Pine Boulevard in the city and will do likewise at the new house. She is a strong advocate of the personal rewards of volunteering.

"This volunteer position brings me in contact with people who face great obstacles, but they still have so much strength and optimism," she said.

With the opening of the new Ronald McDonald House in St. Louis, the organization expects to add about 100 volunteers.

Stephanie Stangl, spokeswoman for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Metro St. Louis, said the organization was looking for a variety of volunteers, particularly those to cook for families.

"We need groups to cook dinners for our families 365 days a year," Stangl said.

Volunteers are also needed to help with maintenance and service projects and pickups and deliveries.

The new Ronald McDonald House will be able to provide for 20 families each night whose children are being treated at all West County hospitals, including Shriners Hospital for Children in Frontenac and the Ranken Jordan pediatric hospital in Maryland Heights.

The average length of stay probably will be 10 days, meaning more than 700 families will be helped each year. The sick children and families are referred by social workers. Families pay a nominal $5 fee a night if they can afford it.

"Our families are strengthened by the small things — a comfortable bed, stocked pantry, toiletries in their bathrooms," said Dan Harbaugh, president of Ronald McDonald House Charities in St. Louis. "The stronger they are, the more strength they can provide to their child."

As a volunteer Freese helps guests check in and out, answers the phone, works computers and helps families with whatever they need.

She wanted to do something to help in the community after retiring in 2008 as a teacher at LaSalle Springs Middle School in Wildwood.

A highlight was the day her son, David Freese, spent more than two hours with a sick child who needed a heart transplant.

She said that as soon as she found out the boy was a Cardinals fan, she wanted her son to meet him.

"David came to the hospital for a visit, and they ended up chatting for over two hours," Lynn Freese said. "They still stay in touch, too."

Freese said she and her son had been inspired by the courage and optimism of the families and patients.

Over the last 30 years, the charity has served about 30,000 families traveling to St. Louis with ill children.

St. Louis' other Ronald McDonald House is at 3450 Park Avenue.

The charity also serves families of pediatric inpatients at three Ronald McDonald Family Rooms within hospitals — Cardinal Glennon, St. Louis and St. John's children's hospitals.

On July 19, St. John's opened a pediatric tower and the Ronald McDonald Family Room was relocated to the tower and doubled in size.

The charity provides families with eight long-term apartments.

The St. John's project was funded both privately and publicly. Some costs were underwritten by the Missouri Department of Economic Development, Neighborhood Assistance Program.

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