The 5 Q's: Annette Thurston shares plans for Ronald McDonald House's largest fundraiser

Annette Thurston

Q: What is Ronald McDonald House's 19th annual Gift of Light, Gift of Love fundraiser and Christmas tree-lighting event?

A: Gift of Light, Gift of Love is the charity’s biggest fundraiser of the year. One hundred percent of funds raised stay local to operate Ronald McDonald House of the Four States and Ronald McDonald Family Room Mercy. The tree-lighting ceremony has become a tradition in kicking off the holiday season.

Q: Why is this an important cause for the Ronald McDonald House?

A: Ronald McDonald House Charities believes that when a child is sick, the entire family needs comfort and support. Our programs give a family with a sick child what they need most — each other. Your gift to Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Four States will help give families with sick kids the gift of togetherness and keep them near the care and resources they need to thrive.

Q: How will the ceremony look this year with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?

A: Ronald McDonald House Charities’ 19th annual Gift of Light, Gift of Love Christmas tree-lighting event is a bit different this year. Our towering, sparkling 17-foot tree is coming home to the front lawn of Ronald McDonald House this Christmas.

Starting Wednesday, Nov. 25, go to our website,, anytime to view the tree-lighting ceremony from the warmth and comfort of your home. Gather your family, pour some hot cocoa, go to the website and press “play.” You will delight in musical performances from Missouri Southern State University’s ensemble choir and Karen’s Dance Studio from the comfort of your home. A surprise guest will light the tree this year. You will not want to miss it, and you can watch it over and over.

Q: How has this fundraiser impacted families at the Ronald McDonald House over the past 18 years?

A: Having a sick child in the hospital is difficult, and not living close by adds another layer of stress for families. The Carnahan family knows this all too well. Cassie and her husband, Justin, had their daughter, Abby, three months early in 2014. Abby weighed only 1 pound, 4 ounces at birth, and the family spent five months and four holidays at Ronald McDonald House in Joplin.

During their time at “Ronnie House,” Cassie, Justin and Abby’s big brother, Connor, felt the warmth of a home away from home. Every volunteer and staff member was truly invested in them as a family and provided tremendous support for their journey in the neonatal intensive care unit at Freeman Health System. Cassie, now a music educator for Neosho schools, and Justin, a State Farm Insurance agent, are thankful for the support Ronald McDonald House provided their family when they needed it most.

Q: What are some current needs of the Ronald McDonald House?

A: Together we can reduce the stress and financial burdens for families when they must travel far from home to access medical care for their child. The power of $10 has the power to give a family hope:

• $10 gas cards provide transportation assistance for parents to travel from home to the hospital.

• $10 gift cards to local stores will fill comfort bags with needed supplies.

• $10 restaurant gift cards provide meals for parents.

• $10 room sponsorships assist with lodging.

Ronald McDonald House Charities is a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization established as a 501(c)(3). Donations are tax-deductible and accepted by check mailed to P.O. Box 2688, Joplin, MO 64803 or online via PayPal.

Annette Thurston is the executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Four States.

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