By Carrie Leising, Guest Blogger
When I was in college, I worked part-time at the Orange County Ronald McDonald House. The Ronald McDonald House never takes a break, just like my parents couldn’t take a break when I was 15, and I was really, really sick on Christmas from a viral infection related to my chemo treatment.
So five years after our holidays at the Ronald McDonald House, I was healthy, in college and working part-time at the House. The House manager asked the staff for volunteers to to work on Christmas Eve. I had no kids and no boyfriend, and I knew I was an ideal candidate. My parents, of course, understood why I wasn’t home for the holiday, and I knew that I would have fun doing it since pulling an all-nighter was par for the course in college.
I immediately volunteered, and as a bonus, I got to be Santa’s helper too. During the holidays, donations of toys, food and toiletries poured into the House, supporting the families during the other ten months of the year. Parents staying at the Orange County House picked one or two items from the toy donations that “Santa’s helper” could leave for their children on Christmas Eve.
At midnight, I made my security-check rounds of the House, and then I transformed into Santa’s helper. Two at a time, I took the bags of carefully-chosen donated toys and quietly delivered them to the front door of each room where the ten families staying at the House that night were sleeping. It was truly magical and a jolly feeling.
The House was so quiet and “not a creature was stirring.” I imagined the relief the parents would feel when they opened their doors in the early morning. I imagined them telling the story to their child at the hospital with the presents to prove that Santa comes to the “Ron Don House” (my nickname for this House I had come to love).
A few short hours after my deliveries, I welcomed Christmas morning by unlocking the front doors of the House, and there a volunteer family was waiting. Their arms were loaded with food, presents and decorations and they were “on duty” to prepare a Christmas breakfast. Parents started coming to the kitchen, and the vibe in the House was one of joy.
This is a testament to those who support the Ronald McDonald House with their gifts, time and talents. The volunteers, staff and donors are giving parents the hope and cheer to celebrate with their child and enjoy Christmas as best they can. For me, it was a Christmas to remember, and it was a beautiful opportunity to heal from the past.
Carrie Leising moved to Austin in 2007 with her husband and dog and has been cancer-free for 16 years. She spent a lot of time at the Orange County Ronald McDonald House when she was a teenager. She has visited five “Ron Don” Houses, including volunteering for and supporting Orange County, San Diego and Austin RMHC and Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times. Her motto: Pay It Forward. This is her second guest blog post for us.