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Thanksgiving Marks 35 Years of Supporting Families at the Ronald McDonald House

Scott Willis

It was 35 years ago on Thanksgiving when the Ronald McDonald House of Central New York first opened its doors on East Genesee Street in Syracuse.   The charity had humble beginnings giving local families an affordable place to stay while their children received medical care just a few blocks away.

Executive Director Beth Trunfio says the seed was planted by a group of local parents with children receiving cancer care in the late 1970’s.

"They witnessed families coming from throughout the Central New York area traveling here to receive oncology treatments for their children.  They were in waiting rooms,  sleeping in their cars and on benches...literally."

She says it was around that time that Ronald McDonald Houses were being established, and Syracuse became one of the first 40.  They spent 30 years in their first location, a pair of renovated houses with 16 rooms.  But Trunfio says as pediatric and neo-natal care advanced and grew at Upstate and Crouse Hospitals, they knew they had to do the same.  Five years ago, they moved into a new accessible building across the street with 25 rooms.

"We serve families of all diagnoses, certainly still oncology, but pediatric cardiology.  As the Golisano Children's Hospital was making plans to be built, we were on that same trajectory.  It's been a great partnership."

Trunfio says families are referred by medical providers or hospital social workers, and must live a minimum of 15 miles away.  They pay only $25 a night, and come from all socio-economic backgrounds.  She says no one is turned away if they can’t pay.  Most families come from Central New York, the North Country, the Southern tier, but some are from across the country and even around the world.  Trunfio says the setting is better than staying in pricey hotels that might not be convenient to the hospitals.

"It's a home.  They share meals together..we offer meals to the families.  They don't have to think about a thing other than the health and well being of their children.  Then they connect with other families and are able to sit and sit at the kitchen table, share a cup of coffee, just relax and rejuvenate."

Trunfio estimates that about three thousand families will have stayed with them by the end of this year.  She says the grassroots volunteers, donations, and community support that helped start the Ronald McDonald House 35 years ago continue to this day. 

More information on Ronald McDonald House Charities, including ways to donate and get involved can be found here.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at