‘A Very Special Place’

A block party this weekend will bring together the parents and children who stay at Ronald McDonald House New York and their Upper East Side neighbors

Sep 13 2019 | 12:00 PM

At first glance, East 73rd Street between First and York Avenues looks like a mundane New York City cross street, lined with restaurants, cleaners and large and small apartment buildings. But it is also home to Ronald McDonald House New York, where 75 families from around the world stay while they fight pediatric cancer at New York City hospitals. For the past 40 years, it has provided housing that is both convenient and affordable in the heart of the Upper East Side.

Ronald McDonald House New York (RMHNY) is the local chapter of the national organization Ronald McDonald House Charities, which has branches in over 64 countries that offer housing for sick children and their families. While Ronald McDonald House is an independent nonprofit, the McDonald’s restaurant chain is a longstanding partner, providing financial support and promoting volunteerism.

The New York House also receives robust support from local corporate and community groups - 211 of them in 2018, to be exact. In fact, people who want to volunteer with RMHNY must currently join a wait-list, said spokesperson Nicole Kelly.

Courageous Kids

Kristie Zinberg, who lives around the corner on York Avenue, said she often sees young kids entering and leaving the House with their parents, sometimes in wheelchairs. To Zinberg, Ronald McDonald House is “a very special place” because she underwent treatment for breast cancer. Speaking about the kids who stay at the House, she said: “To go through such intense treatment at such a young age, they have to have a lot of courage...and you see it on their faces.”

Zinberg is hardly alone in her feelings for the children and their families. “I think everyone in the neighborhood is really supportive. I always say ‘Hello, how are you doing?’” to the kids, she said.

Block Party!

One Saturday each September, the House throws a block party, inviting families from both the House and the neighborhood to honor National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. This year’s party will take place on Saturday, September 21, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. East 73rd Street between First and York Avenues will be closed to traffic and transformed into a carnival. The event, which is free and open to the public, will include crafts, activity booths, face painting, food, and more. Local partners include the NYPD, FDNY, Baked By Melissa, and Hunter College.

Kelly explained how the block party, now in its eighth year, connects the people living in the House with the surrounding community, and vice-versa. “It’s a day for families staying at the House to spend as a family and enjoy all that the New York City community has to offer, while also raising awareness for an important cause...It is also important for the House to give back to the community that continues to support our mission and the families we serve.”

All the Right Reasons

Last year, Gopika Sidhu, who lived a couple blocks away from the House, brought her three-year-old daughter to the block party. In addition to being fun, Sidhu said the event was “educational” for her daughter and “started a conversation” with her kids afterwards back at home.

At the time she attended the block party, Sidhu said she had been living in the neighborhood for three years. Only through hearing about and attending the block party, however, did she learn about RMHNY and its work. “Lots of people don’t know about it,” she said.

That Sidhu did not know about RMHNY does not surprise fellow Upper East Sider and RMHNY volunteer Denise Tanzman. Tanzman said she learned about the organization through her daughters, who had become involved with the organization while they attended the nearby Town School on East 76th Street. “I don’t think a lot of people in the neighborhood...realize how wonderful it is,” she said.

Tanzman, who began volunteering at the House this past summer, said she has been impressed by the caliber of the assistance and resources the House provides its families. “I have found that every single person in that House is incredibly devoted and is there for all the right reasons,” she said.