SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) – The impacts of having a child in the hospital can wear down families, including not being able to have nutritious food to eat while being with them.

In 2020, the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Siouxland helped 550 families save more than $25,000 in meal costs during the pandemic through its Family Lunch Program.

“We really had to kind of figure that whole situation out. We stopped everything; it fell on our staff and not volunteers. We went about a couple of months with just staff doing the lunches and then were able to add in some long-term volunteers, as well,” said Christy Batien, executive director.

Christy Batien, executive director for the Ronald McDonald House, said it’s more important now than ever to bring meals to those families because COVID made it hard for them to access the food in their kitchens at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s.

“So, we called the hospital and they said ‘No, listen, we’ll still let the staff access the kitchen. We need you to bring the lunches because our families don’t have anything else, they have no other access,” said Batien.

Last year, the non-profit made and served 3,418 lunches and 270 breakfast meals for families at three units at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s and MercyOne Child Advocacy Center.

“The families are so appreciative because they don’t have to leave their children at the hospital or order food in; they can stay there…I have extra things that I put in the lunches that they can save for snacks for later,” said Tracy Kunkel, operations manager.

Tracy Kunkel, operations manager for Ronald McDonald House, said the Family Lunch Program’s preparation includes calling the hospital and asking how many lunches are needed for each unit every day.

Batien mentions it warms the non-profit’s heart when helping families who are facing furloughs or layoffs while going through a tough situation with many medical bills, especially during the pandemic.

“We’re going to keep doing it Monday through Friday. We’re always looking for more areas that we can serve and continually trying to push out to help with that. So, obviously, community help to keep the program going is huge,” said Christy Batien, executive director.

This year, the organization will also be adding a third Ronald McDonald Family kitchen at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s in the Labor and Delivery Unit.

The Family Lunch Program helps parents make sure that they eat because they’re not focused on themselves; they’re focused on taking care of their children.

“When you get a note that says, ‘Thank you so much for the wonderful lunch.’ It made my day…that says it all,” said Tracy Kunkel, operations manager.