This year another annual fundraiser will turn into a virtual event thanks to COVID-19 when Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) Northern New South Wales launches its 17th annual Ride for Sick Kids (RFSK) to raise vital funds for seriously ill and injured children and their families.
Ten years ago, Armidale accountant Andrew Kirk rode in quite a few RFSK events, but he never imagined his family would be receiving support from the charity he was raising money for.
"The ride used to culminate at Ronald McDonald House in Newcastle, and never did I think on any of those occasions I'd be using that facility," Mr Kirk said.
"Then, in May of this year, our 16-year-old daughter took a flight from Armidale to Newcastle that we definitely never anticipated, and our world was turned upside down before we even knew it.
"We landed in Newcastle on a Saturday night very scared and a long way from home with with one set of clothes, not knowing what the future would hold for us."
The Kirk's first few nights were spent in hospital by their daughter's side, then the John Hunter Hospital arranged accommodation for them at Ronald McDonald House.
"While those first two days were the toughest of our lives, we quickly realised there were many families in our situation," Mr Kirk said.
"It would be fair to say initially you don't fully appreciate the facility because your focus is totally on your loved one. Ronald McDonald House was just a place to sleep and close our eyes once we left the hospital, but it quickly became our home.
"For us, it was a safe place to sleep and cry and eat and wash and get away from the hospital; and share with people who understood how we were travelling because every person there is in the same boat.
"You pass each other at 5 o'clock in the morning grabbing a cup of tea on your way to hospital and pass each other at 11 o'clock at night in the kitchen getting something to eat after a long day.
"It was a godsend for us, and once we had stayed there for a month, we fully realised how wonderful it was to have such a fantastic facility right there near the hospital."
Like many families who travel from regional areas to seek urgent medical treatment for their children, the Kirks had a home away from home, thanks to RMHC and the vital funds that are raised by the community to support its services.
Last year, 21 families from Armidale stayed for a total of 151 nights at Ronald McDonald House, which because of COVID-19 restrictions, was less than the 39 families who stayed a total of 403 nights the previous year.
RMHC Northern NSW is calling on members of the Armidale community to dust off their bikes and sign up to be a part of this year's virtual Ride for Sick Kids, cycling in the comfort of their own home or local bike riding track, throughout September.
"Following another tough year due to the ongoing pandemic, we're thrilled to be bringing back one of our biggest and best fundraisers for 2021, during the charity's 30th anniversary year," said Ross Bingham, CEO for RMHC Northern NSW.
"Thanks to the ongoing support of the community over the past 30 years, we've provided much-needed support to over 81,000 families from across Northern NSW.
"We're now calling on our wonderful communities to help us continue supporting families in need by signing up for our virtual ride or by picking up a $2 Helping Bike at your local McDonald's restaurant."
This year's Ride for Sick Kids fundraiser aims to raise $200,000, or 1,418 nights of accommodation, so that families can be near their seriously ill child in hospital.
All proceeds from the ride will be donated to the Northern NSW chapter which includes two Ronald McDonald Houses in Newcastle and Tamworth, Ronald McDonald Family Rooms in John Hunter Children's Hospital (Newcastle) and Gosford Hospital (Central Coast), as well the Ronald McDonald Family Retreat in Forster.
These programs provide much-needed respite for parents caring for a seriously ill child and a friendly place where families can spend quality time together.
The Ronald McDonald Learning program provides educational support for youngsters who miss out on schooling because of treatment.
For more information or to sign up to Ride for Sick Kids Northern NSW 2021, please visit www.rideforsickkids.org.au, or purchase a $2 Helping Bike at participating McDonald's restaurants in the area.
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