Bright and early on Tuesday morning, 15 riders gathered in the McDonald carpark, ready to take on a 524km journey to help ease the burden of families with sick kids.
Raising funds for Ronald McDonald House Charities, the group travelled through through Armidale, Tamworth, Scone and Singleton, and will finish in Newcastle on Saturday.
Vanessa Larken and her daughters Ellie and Rori were there to see the riders off. The local family are forever grateful to Tamworth Ronald McDonald House for their support during Vanessa’s high-risk pregnancies in 2015 and 2016. The second stay was particularly difficult for Vanessa, as husband Josh could not take the six weeks off work to be with her, and could only visit on weekends.
“They were all so lovely there which made it - it was stressful, but they put me at ease quite a bit. It was hard without having any family there,” she said. The staff helped then heavily pregnant Vanessa take care of the very energetic Ellie.
“It’s a great facility to have there in a stressful time and time of need when you need your family but sometimes you can’t have them,” Vanessa said.
“Obviously my circumstances were a lot different because I just had healthy babies, but I couldn’t imagine what the other families go through when they’re actually sick.”
Ross Bingham, CEO of Ronald McDonald House Northern NSW, has been in the ride every year since its inception, and said Inverell was special part of the event.
“This is our 13th ride, and our very first ride in 2005 was out of Inverell,” he said.
“I think it’s about 7,500 kms we’ve ridden now and we’ve raised nearly $3 million.”
The Northern NSW programs cost about $2.3 million a year to run, and although McDonalds covers 20 per cent of the costs, the rest comes from fundraising.
Their facilities include an 18 unit house in Newcastle and two family rooms in John Hunter Children’s Hospital where families can live during their children’s illnesses, a five unit house in Tamworth and a family unit at Forster, which provided free holidays for 180 families last year, including 70-80 from the New England. Ronald McDonald House also runs a tutoring program to help children who’ve fallen behind in their schooling.
As a father of four, Mr Bingham said he connected deeply with the charity’s cause.
“There’s been issues where you’ve been angry at the children because they didn’t polish their shoes for school or they couldn’t find their backpack so they’re running late, and when you get up to Ronald McDonald House and you see the families up there, you realise those sort of things don’t really matter,” he said.
“What matters is having the time with them, being with the children, being there and valuing that opportunity to be with your children.”
He said allowing the whole family to stay near the sick child strengthened their support network, “which usually means the child gets better faster and feels better about it”.
“The other bonus is there’s other families there that are going through similar situations that can relate and explain – ‘How do you get through this next bit? How does the doctor work for that? What does this mean?’ – and it just helps with the scary part of going to hospital.”
The local First National team were there to see them off, after the real estate company sponsored the event for over $100,000.
“We’ve sponsored them for five years now. I can’t speak highly enough of the money that Ronald McDonald House raises for families, particularly in country areas,” Ray Ellis, First National CEO said.
“There’s families here that need to send their children to Newcastle or Sydney to seek medical treatment, and to be able to get down there and have somewhere to live, it’s worth millions of dollars. When we say we’re passionate about it, it’s not just a cliche, we are.”
To donate to the cause, visit the Ride for Sick Kids website.