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McDonald House to add rooms for Schneider kids

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A planned addition to the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island in New Hyde Park will more than double its capacity, making it possible for more area families to stay there while their children undergo treatment at nearby Schneider Children’s Hospital.

“What’s been happening here for the last two to three years is an issue of over-occupancy,” said the house’s executive director, Silvana LaFerlita Gullo. “Because we’re over-occupied at any time, many families are being turned away.”

The house is one of 145 in the United States and 207 worldwide. It houses 18 families each night in spacious, hotel-style rooms with private bathrooms.

The rooms contain two double beds, outfitted with custom-knitted quilts that the families take home as mementos. There is a full kitchen and laundry facilities as well as several play areas for children. The cost is $15 per night per family.

But Gullo said demand was so high that she was forced to make painful choices about which families to accept. First priority goes to local families whose children’s cases are extremely critical. Then space is allotted to families from around the country or overseas who have come to New York for procedures or expertise not available elsewhere.

When the 24-room, $5 million extension is completed in six or seven months, Gullo will be able to offer space to a whole new set of families. One particularly needy group, she said, are families of children being treated in Schneider’s oncology unit. Because parents can sleep at their child’s bedside, they are rarely given space at the Ronald McDonald House.

“It’s hell,” she said. “These families are being forced to sleep at bedside for as long as the child is on the unit.”

The five-story addition — four floors of bedrooms and a ground floor with kitchens, laundry facilities and playrooms — will abut the existing building on its eastern side. Because it will only have six rooms per floor, the annex’s footprint will be small. Parking will be increased to accommodate 51 vehicles, rather than the current 24.

To make room for the additional parking, Gullo had to sacrifice some of the trees that surround the building and give it a park-like feel. But she did so to spare the surrounding community, which already functions as an unofficial free parking area for the huge Long Island Jewish Medical Center campus.

“The project did take into account the community’s concern over parking,” she said. “We gave up a lot of trees.”

The cost of the expansion is being funded by a combination of corporate and non-profit donations. An organization of metropolitan area McDonald’s franchise owners pledged $1.5 million, and Gullo is pursuing partnerships with the New York Jets and Southwest Airlines.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” she said.

Gullo said that although she does not yet have the full $5 million, the project is definitely going forward. She said she would take out a mortgage if the capital campaign falls short, but she hoped that would not be necessary.

To that end, Gullo is continuing to seek funding. People were generally happy to give to the Ronald McDonald House, largely because the fruits of those donations are so easily visible, she said.

“It’s the kind of charity you can grab and put your arms around.”

Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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