The Ronald McDonald House Charities Maryland (RMHCMD) has partnered with Chai Lifeline to open a kosher pantry. Located on the second floor of the new Ronald McDonald House at 1 Aisquith Street in East Baltimore, this establishment provides the first ever opportunity for Jews who observe kosher laws to participate in Ronald McDonald House’s services for children.
The idea came from Dr. Steven J. Czinn, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital, who asked RMHCMD to be more accessible to the Jewish community.
“We never thought about doing this, but they were letting us know how many families are unable to stay at the house, so we felt it was a great opportunity to outreach and help a population we were unable to reach in the past,” said Susan Salt, director of Family Services and House Operations at RMHCMD.
Chai Lifeline Mid-Atlantic, a regional chapter of the international children’s health support network, will stock the pantry with kosher food and refer families to the Ronald McDonald House.
“So what I’m most excited about is not so much the kosher kitchen but what it offers on a macro level,” said Tzvi Haber, director of Chai Lifeline Mid-Atlantic. “Families in the Jewish community will now consider it a viable option for years to come. RMHC has over 600 families a year, while the number of Jewish families is minuscule to zero. They have 50 suites — nine suites just for children in isolation — gorgeous activities for teenagers, awesome little playrooms for kids … now they can use it as resource.”
More than that, it offers a home away from home for families of children who are dealing with pediatric cancer.
“One of most devastating effects (on these families) is that you’re on the go, always, on the road, always, doctor to doctor, appointment to therapy to colleges to radiation proton therapy,” Haber said. “You’re not home, ever. Now you can feel you’re at home.”
As for the number of families that will be served by the new Ronald McDonald House, it’s hard to say this early, Salt said. But “we predict to double the number of families we worked with at our last house, which was 1,200.”
Chai Lifeline Mid-Atlantic forecasts that about 20 of those families will be Jewish this year, but it can and will grow. This location is right between University of Baltimore and John Hopkins, which are two of 27 proton therapy centers in the United States. This means, Haber said, that families will come from around the world to the community now.
Kosher snacks were offered at the ribbon cutting on Oct. 3. For now, the pantry, which has two refrigerators and two microwaves, will offer snacks and shelf-safe food. But there are plans to expand to meals once there is a large turnout. Salt said they have already received several phone calls from families who had never heard of this at a Ronald McDonald House and who are hoping it becomes a trend.
“For many families, the Ronald McDonald House is a godsend, a place to try and recharge, to regain strength while your child is hospitalized at one of the local children’s hospitals,” said Czinn. “Our goal is to make the Ronald McDonald House as user-friendly as possible to the entire community.”
“We love to be able to serve anyone who needs us — that’s our main goal, our purpose: Serve more families,” Salt said. “I just think it’s amazing, it’s a great partnership. We can’t wait to have families come in and take advantage of our services.”
“I hope this kitchen will not be used, that the shelves will stay dusty,” said Haber. “But when there is a need — and there is — we will fill it.”