May 2nd is McHappy Day across Canada and Central Albertans were purchasing McCafe beverages, Big Macs and Happy Meals at McDonald’s restaurants to support the Ronald McDonald House.
The Martel family — who used the Ronald McDonald House following the birth of their son Ben — went to each Red Deer McDonald’s location to thank customers, staff and managers for their support.
“It all started with our baby boy Ben being born,” Mike Martel said. “He was born with Down Syndrome and was immediately put into the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) because of breathing complications. He spent a month and a bit in there and there was a lot going on at that time.”
Mike and his wife Nicky ended up having to balance being at the hospital several times throughout the day along with raising their three other sons, two of which are teenagers heavily involved in lacrosse and their son Luke — who was only two years old at the time.
“Instead of being a five-minute trip to the hospital, it was taking up to an hour every single time we had to go,” Mike said. “With Ben needing to be fed every couple hours, it was non-stop back and forth.
“The Ronald McDonald House gave us that safe haven to not have to go so far. It was right beside the hospital, it was easy and quick and it was a nice place for our family to relax and enjoy being a family still.”
Nicky said the staff at the Central Alberta Ronald McDonald House went above and beyond and that house became a, “Home away from home”.
“You don’t really understand what the house is until you are in it, meet the people and see what they actually do as an organization,” she said. “We have four boys and my teenagers got to have supper everyday without me having to worry about cooking and cleaning. The Ronald McDonald House kept our house normal during a very stressful time.”
The Martels were able to take advantage of the day-use facilities at the House, which allowed them to rest, shower, eat and their son Luke was able to play in the play area.
“They treated Luke so good. He was two at the time and we always refer to it as Disneyland for him. He knew the drill — you sanitize your hands, take your shoes off and run to the playroom,” Nicky said.
Their time at the house also happened to be during Easter, which was accommodated by the staff and volunteers at the House.
“They graciously opened their doors to my whole family. There was 14 of us who had Easter dinner there. It was very, very nice,” Nicky said.
The Martels are now all home, healthy and are grateful for what the Ronald McDonald House did for their family during a stressful time.
Mike said it is important for them now to support the House in any way they can.
“After going there and realizing what it really was, it is really important to us now,” he said. “We still get invited back because they want to see Ben and see how our family is growing. It is not just an organization that helps you, they become literally a part of your family by the end of it.”
Red Deer McDonald’s locations Owner/Operator Bob Carpenter said McHappy Day is a great way for his businesses to support families like the Martels.
“It is one of those things that has some momentum and the community has really rallied behind it. Our staff do such a great job suggesting different ways for customers to give back to the Ronald McDonald House. We also have a lot of fun. Our crew has fun; our VIPs have a great time and it is everyone coming together for a great cause,” he said.
Carpenter said hearing stories like the Martels puts a face on all the good work the Ronald McDonald house does.
“It is a really humbling experience and we are privileged to be here today trying to find ways to give back,” he said.
Rhanda Bonet-Graham, Ronald McDonald House Central Alberta fund development manager, said the House is grateful for the support McDonald’s has given them.
“Our partnership with McDonald’s constitutes 25 per cent of our operating budget every year. They are our biggest donor and our best supporter,” she said. “We are so excited to celebrate with them on McHappy Day and thank their crew, their managers and the customers.”
She added that last year, the Ronald McDonald House Central Alberta saw 916 day use passes used by local families like the Martels and that she is grateful for the support from the community.
“Thanks to everyone who came out,” she said.
One dollar from each of the items purchased goes directly to the Ronald McDonald House.