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Ronald McDonald House

Taylor Honabach, 11, and her mother, Sheri Evins, toured one of the family suites at the Ronald McDonald House in Missoula before it opened in 2006.

In 2017 alone, the Ronald McDonald House in Missoula had to turn away 72 desperate families, people suffering through crises, simply due to a lack of space.

The nonprofit hosts families who need a place to stay while their child or children receive medical treatment at a local hospital or clinic. The eight family rooms aren’t enough to keep up with demand. But now, thanks to a nearly $1 million donation, the organization is breaking ground on a $2.77 million construction project to double the size of the current house.

“It’s heartbreaking to tell a family that we can’t accommodate them,” said Amy Peterson, CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Western Montana. “Often times that leaves them sleeping in waiting rooms or at their child’s bedside, or honestly even in their cars. They’ll do whatever they have to do.”

The average length of stay for a family is 17 days, and 60 percent of families have a child in the neonatal intensive care unit due to a premature birth or other complications. Another 20 percent of guests are high-risk mothers experiencing difficulties with a pregnancy. The nonprofit doesn’t turn anyone away due to income levels, but they require that people live 40 miles or 40 minutes away, have a pediatric patient under 21 years of age, or be pregnant. A parent or guardian must be at least 16 years old.

The house, located steps from Community Medical Center’s campus, has an arrangement with a local hotel to help reduce the waiting list, but it’s a long way from the hospital.

AbbVie, a research-based global biopharmaceutical firm, donated $957,000 toward the expansion of the Missoula Ronald McDonald House. AbbVie is giving $100 million to 32 Ronald McDonald House Charities across the United States. According to a press release, AbbVie said it shares “Ronald McDonald House Charities’ global vision of a world where all children have access to medical care, and where their families are supported and can be actively involved in every step of their health journey.”

Along with local and regional donor support and a $650,000 gift from the Jane S. Heman Foundation, Peterson said the Missoula Ronald McDonald House is at 82 percent of the total needed to fund the expansion, and that construction will start immediately.

Kathy O’Day, the house manager, said local volunteers help keep the cupboards stocked with food and provide meals, clothing and other necessities because families often arrive at the drop of a hat, under stress and not thinking about anything other than their sick child.

“They are so incredibly blessed. They feel taken care of and they’re so thankful,” O’Day said.

At a groundbreaking ceremony on Monday, Peterson and O'Day were joined by Community Medical Center CEO Dean French, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Western Montana board chair Beth Clark, Jane S. Heman Foundation trustee Bob Thomas and campaign committee chair Roger Welshans.

Peterson noted the facility prides itself on being much more than just a place to sleep, and is a community support system that no organization in the world can match.

“We are beyond grateful for the support we’ve received so far from local and global donors — we’ll continue diligently fundraising to make sure we reach that final goal,” she said. “Every donation helps keep Montana families close and give them hope in some of the most stressful times of their lives.”

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