COLUMBIA — "Ronald McDonald" — the hamburger chain's iconic ruby-headed mascot — was on hand Wednesday morning at a groundbreaking ceremony for a new Ronald McDonald House to be built in Columbia.
Red and yellow balloons and signs decorated the path leading to the construction site at 3501 Lansing Ave., which is within walking distance of MU Women's and Children's Hospital. Community members and families joined the clown character in marking the charity's anticipated move from 1001 E. Stadium Blvd.
"I am so honored to be here," said Ronald McDonald. "We have so many people in need, we have the Ronald McDonald House growing, going to serve 18 families right here in Missouri's community.
"It's a McMagical good time."
Ronald McDonald House Charities is an international nonprofit, best known for its work in providing housing and support for families with sick children. McDonalds Corp. is the organization's largest corporate donor, and many of the chain's owners, operators and employees are closely involved in its work, according to the organization's website.
Columbia's new Ronald McDonald House will have 18 bedrooms — twice that in the city's old house — with private bathrooms. There will also be one extended-stay apartment.
The house will be built in two phases, beginning with the construction of the house's shell, followed by work on the furnishings and the interior. Each phase is expected to take six months. The total cost is estimated at $2.6 million.
Brooke Hartman, of Fulton, said she was able to take advantage of the help the Ronald McDonald House offered her family 10 years ago. Her daughter, Ashton, was born eight weeks premature, and was placed in the newborn ICU. Ashton's parents stayed in Columbia's Ronald McDonald House for a week while she recovered.
"When you have a sick child, it's the worst feeling ever," Hartman said. "So to have to leave your child in the hospital is hard enough, but if you're within walking distance of where they are it's so much easier.
"You have to be close to your babies."
This location was chosen when MU relocated its Neo-Natal Intensive Care and Pediatrics unit to the Women's and Children's Hospital.
Seeing the need to have the Ronald McDonald House close to these facilities, the university leased the land for the new house, said Mary Ebert, co-chair of the Building a House to Call Home Capital Campaign.
The location is ideal for reasons other than its proximity to the hospital, though, said Summer Collins, volunteer coordinator for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Mid-Missouri.
"We want it to be a home, not just a house, not a place where they have to just come," Collins said. "So to be able to have it in a neighborhood and in a residential area, to have to feel like they're part of that neighborhood is a big deal."
Bob McDavid, Columbia's mayor and a resident of the Woodridge area, welcomed the new neighbors.
"I'm proud to see this organization continue to grow and provide the service that it does," McDavid said. "It needs to be close to children's hospital so proximity is important to the families that utilize it."
The Ronald McDonald House in Columbia has served about 25,000 families since opening in 1983.
"The burden of where to stay in a strange city when a tragedy suddenly strikes your child is no longer a problem," Ebert said. "Your spirits are continually uplifted by caring staff and the friendship of other families.
"This charity is a blessing and I am committed to seeing that the Ronald McDonald House of Mid-Missouri is here to help those families in need for many years to come."
Ronald McDonald House Charities began in 1974 with the opening of the first house in Philadelphia. Since then, the organization has grown to include more than 300 houses worldwide.