Making a difference doesn’t have to be as difficult as you might think. You don’t have to travel across the globe, donate your life savings, or dedicate all your available time every day. Sometimes you can make the world a little bit better simply by cooking a meal. That’s what they believe at the Ronald McDonald House in Wedding, Berlin.
The Ronald McDonald House is a temporary home for families whose seriously ill children are being treated in the cardiac center of the Virchow Clinic in Berlin. For parents and siblings of these children, the hospitalization time means not only a constant mix of hope and worry, but also a complete upheaval of their usual lives as they reorganize around the necessary courses of treatment. They have to move to Berlin for an indefinite period of time, giving up their careers and friends in order to spend their days in the hospital. So in the evenings they come to the Ronald McDonald house.
If the day has been filled with stress and uncertainty, then a carefree dinner can be like a small holiday, providing strength for the days to come. “Once a week we like to distract the families for a bit,” says Jenny Mädel, manager of the House in Wedding. “So we cook for them.”
There are typically 34 families in the Berlin House at a time. There are 328 more Ronald McDonald Houses in 33 countries and regions around the world, for a total of 8,000 families served every night. The task of cooking for them is taken on by volunteer workers or by companies who want to make a social impact.
“We learned about the Ronald McDonald House in 2010,” says Inka Rosini, manager of
Innovation and Portfolio Management Marketing at
The first evening they volunteered to cook was such a huge success that the team decided on the spot to come to the Ronald McDonald House twice a year from then on. They have been guests in the kitchen six times to date. And when a menu from
“We are always happy when Inka Rosini’s team comes in to cook,” says Mädel. “They are now very well-versed here; they can assess the different situations of our families, cook unbelievably tasty food, and bring optimism and a positive energy into the House. It does the families good, if after a long day of taking care of their child someone can come and give them a nice evening.”
The families aren’t the only ones who benefit from a successful evening, though – the team does, too. After long hours of preparation, cooking, serving and cleaning up, the volunteers are naturally exhausted by 11:00pm, when the last traces of dinner are cleared away. But at the same time, they know that they have taken part in a lasting and meaningful experience.
Janina Knörr knows first-hand how much the operation means, not only within the House but also to the volunteers. She has now been to the Ronald McDonald House three times with Rosini and her other colleagues, and is enthusiastic about the tradition.
“It’s just such a nice feeling to help people,” she says. “They are in a very difficult situation, and we ensure that they can sit down for a little while and forget about their concerns. We have a great deal of fun treating them like kings for an evening.”
Even though each visit only lasts one evening, for the team it’s a long-term endeavor. They begin collecting recipes and brainstorming four weeks before their designated date. The meals always follow a culinary theme: sometimes an elaborate barbecue, sometimes an Italian meal spread over multiple courses.
“We don’t cook incredibly refined dishes,” says Knörr, “but we put in a lot of effort. Everything is always meticulously planned. At the end of the day, we are all project managers.”
Cooking for large groups of people is obviously not your typical corporate project managing. Nevertheless, the colleagues have by now developed a set routine. They plan, shop and finally cook together.
“We already know our way around the house so well,” says Knörr. “They have an absolute dream kitchen there, where you can really work well as a team. It’s really nice to see how well you can harmonize in situations that are so very different from everyday life.
“Everyone takes responsibility – we have experts for appetizers, salads, and desserts, and if the timing and calculations all work out correctly, it’s a really good feeling. We make people happy, get great feedback, and have lots of fun. It gives us a real sense of togetherness.”
No wonder the team is holding on to this tradition. They’ve even set a precedent within the company. Word of their success has naturally made its way around, and other departments are now beginning to spread joy through their own cooking evenings.
The Ronald McDonald House of Wedding, Berlin, is of course thrilled by this growing spirit of volunteerism.
RMHC impacts the lives of seven million children and their families each year around the world. For a full history of the RMHC and more specific details on volunteerism, please visit: www.rmhc.org