LONG BEACH - When a child is sick, having that child within reach can be a parent's greatest desire - especially if the child is hospital-bound miles away from home.
The Long Beach Ronald McDonald House helps to make this desire a reality.
Only a few feet away from Long Beach Memorial and Miller Children's Hospital, the 23-room "house" serves as a home away from home, with low-cost and often free temporary housing for families who travel great distances for the specialized care of their seriously ill or hospitalized children being treated at Miller Children's or other nearby facilities.
The Long Beach program kicked off its annual Walk for Kids fundraiser event Friday. The walk, which takes place April 7, helps to raise funds for the Long Beach location and other Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California programs, said Cheri Bazley, executive director of the local house.
"The need for our houses rose many, many years ago," she said. "We are providing comfort and care and support to the families, not only in our immediate community, but our surrounding communities and beyond, with critically ill children receiving care."
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California was founded in 1977 and now has six houses.
The Long Beach House, which can house up to 23 families, or about 70 people, was filled to capacity this week, Bazley said.
"I have a lot of personal experience working with terminally ill children," said Damon Dunn, a former NFL player and honorary chairman of the Long Beach Walk for Kids event. "I understand the role and the need that the Ronald McDonald House meets."
Living in a community without the needed medical care for your child can be devastating, said Dunn, who announced his candidacy for Long Beach Mayor this week.
"People going through such a critical time - the most important thing is to care for their child, but housing can be a major issue because of the cost associated with it," he said. "That's the need of the LBRMH, so parents, who otherwise can't afford to be near their child, and who otherwise live too far away and can't drive to the facility back and forth, have somewhere close by to stay."
Bazley said that with an annual operating budget of $1.1 million for the Long Beach house, this year's fundraising goal for the walk is $275,000.
Since its December 2011 opening, the Long Beach House has served more than 450 families, she said.
"That being our start-up year, we know those numbers will increase. It will probably double. It might even more than double," Bazley said. "We feel that this is a really important event for us and it is instrumental in helping us do what we do for kids and families."
Want to help?
What: The Long Beach Walk for Kids, a benefit fundraiser for the Miller Children's Hospital Ronald McDonald House.
When: 7 a.m. April 7
Where: Starting line will be at Shoreline Aquatic Park, 200 Aquarium Way, Long Beach.
Info: Call 562-285-4300 or visit www.walkforkids.org