Skip to main content

UofGH ECS students volunteer to cook dinner at Ronald McDonald House

View an accessible transcript of the above video

Students in the University of Guelph-Humber’s Early Childhood Studies program recently volunteered to spend an afternoon and evening preparing dinner for the children and families at Toronto’s Ronald McDonald House charity.

Since 1981, the Ronald McDonald House has provided a home in downtown Toronto for 81 families with seriously ill children undergoing treatment.

For the ECS students who enthusiastically volunteered their time, the day offered not only the opportunity to give back to the community, but also valuable lessons in working with families who are dealing with unique challenges.

“Students in Early Childhood Studies are taught that they’re leaders in the field. That means they know the whole child, which involves understanding different family dynamics, health conditions, and disabilities,” said Elena Merenda, Assistant Program Head of Early Childhood Studies, who helped prepare the meal alongside her students.

“At the Ronald McDonald House, they really see what it means to have different family dynamics and how that impacts the development of the child.”

The class poses as a group outside Ronald McDonald House

In the Ronald McDonald House’s bright kitchen, a team of roughly 20 students worked cheerfully to cook from scratch a hearty Italian meal that included roasted eggplant, chicken parmigiana and fresh pasta.

Afterward, Ronald McDonald House’s co-ordinator told the group that the facility had previously welcomed executive chefs to cook dinner who were not as organized or co-operative as the UofGH contingent – a testament to how their education has prepared them for professional collaboration.

Once they were finished cooking and serving the food, students were given the opportunity to sit down and get to know the children and families residing at Ronald McDonald House.

For most students, these conversations were the valuable highlight of an already uplifting day.

Four students hard at work in the kitchen

“Our program is unique in that it provides a therapeutic experience for students,” Merenda explained. “They learn how to take play experiences and make them therapeutic experiences for children. If a child is having difficulties understanding their treatment, how can we use play to explain it to them?

“The conversations they are having give students an idea what the children’s therapeutic needs are and how they can help as a professional.”

Fourth-year student Aren Sammy was volunteering with her program at the Ronald McDonald House for a second time. She had such an empowering experience her first time, she knew she had to seize the opportunity again.

“We like to learn from these families, learn what they’re going through, and learn what their needs are,” Sammy said. “I did have a field placement at SickKids and that just opened my heart to this even more.

“I think students take a lot from this. A lot of them don’t usually see what these families go through – to have a glimpse into that is important.”

Students preparing food in a line

In fact, ECS students volunteered so eagerly to attend that the kitchen could not accommodate all the would-be helpers.

“They’re so excited,” Merenda said of her students. “We’ve offered our ECS students opportunities to go out and have fun, party-type events and they are not so excited to do that, but when we ask them to come out and cook dinner for the families at the Ronald McDonald House, we are turning them away by the dozen.

“They love coming and giving back. It’s just in their nature because we’re in a caring and nurturing profession. It’s really helpful for them in building themselves as professionals to have these experiences.

“I hope from today’s experience they realize how powerful they are.”

Four students posing togetherElena Merenda addresses the studentsFour students cooking togetherTwo students laugh as they cookTwo students working on dinnerTwo students smiling and working on the mealTwo students working on their pastaTwo student cooks smiling and laughingTwo students hug as they cook