Home away from home


Queenstown mum Nina Clark says staying at Ronald McDonald House South Island is “like going to stay with an aunty”.

Just 12 hours after her little boy, Torben, was born in Invercargill in May 2013, Southland Hospital staff realised “there was a problem” and he required urgent medical treatment.

He and his mum, a graphic designer, were on a plane first thing the next morning, bound for Christchurch’s Ronald McDonald House, while dad, Josh, a builder, followed in the car.

Initially Nina and Torben stayed in separate rooms in the hospital while Josh was put up in the 26-room Ronald McDonald House South Island.

It would be the family’s first stay there of, to date, 22.

“I think the most stressful part about coming up here [now] is just getting out the door from our house – everything else is just so easy,” Nina says.

“We turn up and there are familiar faces and we’re familiar with the rooms and they’ve got toys and they provide meals; it’s just a wonderful environment to be in when you’re travelling with a sick child.”

An added benefit’s been the sense of camaraderie they feel with other families who know what it’s like to be in their shoes.

“I’ve met one other lady in Queenstown [who can relate], but … I don’t know any of my friends, nationwide, who have a sick child, so you do feel a bit isolated in that regard.”

Torben, who’s now five and at Queenstown Primary School, has handled his three-monthly hospital visits like a champ and “thinks that he’s lucky” to stay at the Christchurch house.

Ronald McDonald South Island boss Mandy Kennedy, a former Queenstowner, says since January 1 there have been 41 other families from the Queenstown Lakes who’ve needed to stay at the South Island house – they’ve stayed a total of 344 nights so far.

Annually it costs about $1.2 million to keep the doors open to the Christchurch house and family rooms in Southland and Christchurch hospitals, and $140 a night to provide one night’s accommodation and meals for a family in need.

Run by an independent charitable trust, it’s reliant on donations and “an army of volunteers who are the absolute backbone of our charity”, Kennedy says.

One of its major fundraisers for the year will celebrate its 10th anniversary next week in Queenstown – since 2008 the Queenstown Supper Club’s raised more than $250,000 through its yearly soiree to support families in need.

Every cent raised through next Friday’s event will go straight back to the charity.

Guests will start the night at Skyline with drinks, canapes and a live auction before being whisked away, in groups of eight, to their dining destinations, unveiled by a random draw on the night.