San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica to open first Ronald McDonald House

Soon, a helping hand will be extended to families of critically ill children in Costa Rica. The country’s first Ronald McDonald House is scheduled to open in San José in 2012 and will serve as a “home-away-from-home” for families of children receiving treatment at the National Children’s Hospital.

The first Ronald McDonald House was established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the United States, in 1974. Today, there are more than 300 Ronald McDonald Houses in 50 countries around the world. 

Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) has been working in Costa Rica since 2002. According to RMHC Costa Rica Treasurer and McDonald’s Finance Supervisor Giovanni Quirós, the organization has been involved in numerous projects over the years, including the opening of game and learning rooms in hospitals in Pérez Zeledón and Cartago, the donation of hi-tech equipment to several national hospitals, and the creation of a “wheelchair bank” that has provided more than 600 children access to wheelchairs. 

Quirós said that the foundation was looking for a long-term project and conceived the idea to build the Ronald McDonald House. “Children and their families need the house,” Quirós said. “Children weren’t receiving treatment because there wasn’t a way for families to stay in San José.” 

The National Children’s Hospital is the only medical specialty hospital in the country that is part of Costa Rica’s Social Security System (Caja). The hospital treats patients under 13 suffering from serious illnesses. 

According to hospital records, 30 percent of the children currently attending the hospital live more than 129 kilometers away. And 16 percent of appointments are missed (more than 22,000 a year) due to distance and socioeconomic status.

At least twice a month, Damaris Martínez and her 12-year-old son Daniel travel from their home in Guanacaste to the National Children’s Hospital in San José so Daniel can receive medical treatment. Daniel was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that affects the spinal column. Daniel is also undergoing treatment for hydrocephalus, an accumulation of fluid in and around the brain.

The Martinez family makes the four-hour trip to the hospital via ambulance. As a result, a routine doctor’s appointment entails an eight-hour round-trip journey, plus time for Daniel’s doctor’s visit, which the Martinez’s accomplish in one day. And when Daniel needs an operation – and there have been several – Damaris stays in San José.

“It’s difficult,” said Damaris. “Most of my family lives in Guanacaste. The last time Daniel was hospitalized, I spent the entire night with him in his room at the hospital.”

The Ronald McDonald House would offer a solution for families in similar situations. Just 350 meters from the National Children’s Hospital, the house not only will offer a place for families to stay, but also will provide a chance for families to interact with other families. 

“Families can meet other families that are in the same situation as they are and they can support each other,” said Quirós. 

The National Children’s Hospital will work with the RMHC to determine which families stay at the house. Quirós said that the hospital will select families based on  criteria  such  as  the  severity  of  the medical condition of the child, how far away they live, and the family’s financial situation.

The house will be constructed in two stages. The first stage will consist of 13 bedrooms, which can accommodate two people each, 10 bathrooms, a communal kitchen, game room and administrative and social areas to support the families. Each family is responsible for cooking their own food. RMHC calculates that the house will provide a home to 4,745 families annually.

Quirós estimates that the monthly cost to maintain the house will be $45,000. This includes security guards, administrators and various maintenance costs like water and electricity.

There will be no charge to the families who stay in the house. Quirós said that studies done in conjunction with the hospital have shown that the families who need the house live the furthest from the hospital and need the most help financially.

 “The lot has  been purchased. Cons-truction will begin in January or February 2012. The construction phase will last six to eight months and if all goes according to plan, the house will be operational by October 2012,” said Quirós. 

So far, RMHC has raised $200,000 for the Ronald McDonald House. But with the first  stage  of  the  project  estimated  at $1.2 million, a great deal of money is still needed. 

“In reality, this is what we can build,” said Quirós. “But the need is so much greater.”

Upcoming Fundraising Events

RMHC is hosting a gala at the Radisson Hotel tonight. The night will feature dinner, photos with Ronald McDonald and an evening of dancing to the tunes of Latin rock group Miriam y Su Quinteto. Tickets cost $200 per person, $2,000 for a company table for 10 and $5,000 to be a “heart hero sponsor.” A heart hero sponsor receives a table for 10 and public recognition of their donation in the media.

On Oct. 30, a women’s 5K race will be held in 15 Latin American cities, including San José. The race begins at McDonald’s Pavas and finishes at McDonald’s Sabana Park. The entry fee is ₡7,000 ($14).

 For race information, see

On Nov. 18, McDonald’s will host its annual McDía Feliz (McHappy Day). Proceeds from that day’s Big Mac sales go to RMHC. Manitas (paper hands) can now be purchased at any McDonalds for ₡500 ($1). Money from the sales of Manitas goes towards RMHC.

To learn more about the RMHC of Costa Rica, upcoming events or how you can help email or call 2523-0214.

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