Sandersons from Taft and Donalds from Ridgecrest meet through Memorial Hospital's home-away-from home for families with hospitalized children.

For some people, the name McDonald's means hamburgers, French fries, a soft drink.

But for others the name means more, much more.

When the Autumn and Aaron Sanderson family of Taft and the Jill and David Donald family of Ridgecrest think of McDonald's, they think of the Ronald McDonald House in Bakersfield.

The house opened in June 2009 at Memorial Hospital, with Scarlett Sabin as director. Sabin has worked for non-profits since 1995 and joined the House in December 2008, before it opened.

"I had a child with a birth defect," Sabin said. "I didn't stay at a House but I know what it was like to have a child in the hospital.

"We don't want to be a motel. We want to be a home-away-from-home. Some people are there one or two days, a week or a month. In 2012 one family was there for five months.

"We serve all of the area hospitals. People at the hospitals refer families to us.

"It has been made a home because of the support of the community. It is 100 percent funded by donations, with 10 percent of that coming from the local McDonald's ownership group and the other 90 percent from the annual Walk for Kids and community support."

Lucy Anne Donald

Jill Donald is a graduate of Burroughs High School in Ridgecrest. Her husband, David, is from San Diego and has been in Ridgecrest for about four years.

Jill Donald was only 23 weeks pregnant when she went into labor due to cervical incompetent, which occurs because of weakness of the cervix, which is made to open by the growing pressure in the uterus as pregnancy progresses. If the responses are not halted, rupture of the membranes and birth of a premature baby can result, which was the case with Lucy Anne Donald.

Lucy was born on March 28, 2012 at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield, and weighed only 1 pound and 1 ounce and was a mere 11 inches long.

"We had no idea if she'd survive," Jill Donald said. "Despite her size and age, and against the odds, she lived through one night, then another and another."

The Donalds were at the Ronald McDonald House at Memorial Hospital in Bakersfield for just over six weeks when they met Aaron and Autumn Sanderson.

"That's when we met Jill and David," Autumn Sanderson said. "We soon started to tell our story and listen to their story. It was so nice to talk to another family that understood how we felt.

"We loved seeing them and hearing about their daughter Lucy. Having another family to talk to really helped us. They truely are amazing people and amazing friends."


Only a handful of days after the Donalds and the Sandersons met at the House, tragedy struck.

"When Lucy was seven weeks old, she took a sudden turn for the worse," Jill Donald said. "Like a sleeping angel, she drifted off peacefully in our arms. We will always be grateful to Lucy for the light and love she brought to our lives.

"(We are grateful) to the Ronald McDonald House – and the people who make it possible – for helping us enjoy our daughter's life and allowing us to meet so many amazing people.

"What I remember mostly of our stay at the House is it became a haven for us. Life was very stressful for us.

"The people who worked there became a second family. We saw a lot of families come and go while we were there. It just seemed to click with Autumn and Aaron.

"The first night we talked and talked and couldn't seem to stop talking. They made us laugh. It was something we hadn't been able to do for a long time.

"Autumn and Aaron are very outgoing. Other families that stayed at the House were very stressed-out. Other families kept to themselves and we gave them their privacy. They (the Sandersons) are very outgoing and easy to talk to. It felt natural to talk to them.

"I had a problem pumping milk for Lucy. Autumn determined she was going to pump milk for us."

The Donalds fondly remember the staff at the House.

"They were wonderful the whole time we were there, very supportive," Jill Donald said. "Our every need was met. They took really good care of us.

"I think that since Lucy died our friendship with Scarlett and the staff at the house and Autumn and Aaron have blossomed more. It's amazing we have made such great friends.

"When Lucy died I was afraid we would never hear from them again. But they have been there the whole time."

Jill Donald is pregnant and expected to give birth about St. Patrick's Day. This time it is a full-term pregnancy. And the baby's gender will be a surprise, she said.

"We are planning on all of them (the Sandersons and the people from the House) being among the first to meet the new baby."

Talen Sanderson

The Sandersons are originally from Porterville and have lived in Taft for the last three years.

Their son, Talen, was born on May 14 at Memorial Hospital. He was jaundice due to a blood incompatibility called congenital hyperbilirubinemia, Autumn Sanderson said.

Talen was put in the neonatal intensive care unit at Memorial. He was in the hospital for the first 10 days of his life, seven of those in NICU, Autumn Sanderson said. They had to go to the NICU every three hours.

Today Talen is a happy and healthy 10-month-old, Sanderson said.

"Talen is totally perfect now," his mother said. "He's 20 pounds and 2 ounces, 29 inches long.

He's a happy, energetic boy."

But that wasn't the case when he was born.

"We spent 10 days at the Ronald McDonald House," she said. "When we were in the hospital they told us they were going to put Talen in NICU. They said we could stay at the House.

They showed us the room, the washer and dryer, the food. There's one big kitchen, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a livingroom, an office area with a computer.

"You don't feel like you are in a hotel. It is really comfortable. We cooked what we wanted. They have cupboards stocked with food or you can go shopping and bring your own food. Churches and others ... a lot of people .. donated food and cooked for us.

"There are a lot of volunteers at the House. It was helpful to have them cook for us when we were going back and forth to the hospital every few hours. I can't believe how many people are involved with the House.

"They truely are amazing people and amazing friends. We never thought that so many good things could come out of our situation, but the Ronald McDonald House will always be another family to us. We want to give back to them as much as they gave to us."

The House

In addition to Sabin, there are two other full-time staff members, two part-timers, one on-call person and many volunteers, the director said.

"There must be a paid staff member at the House at night," she said. "Somebody has to be there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

"There were 700 people who stayed overnight at the House in 2012. If the House is full, the Marriott (hotel) will take the overflow for $29 a night, paid for with grant money."

Ronald McDonald Houses have been around for 38 years. There are 322 Houses in 41 countries worldwide, Sabin said. Seventy-five percent of all children's hospitals worldwide have a relationship with one of the Houses, she said.

"They are designed for families that live 25 miles or more away from the hospital but if there is available space those living closer can stay," Sabin said.

"It's such a special place. We try to make a difference in the lives of the families. But without the community support we could not operate.

"Families from all over Kern County have stayed at the House; families from Taft, 10 or so from Mojave, the most from Tehachapi, a half-dozen or so from Ridgecrest have stayed."

The main fund-raiser for Ronald McDonald House is the Walk for Kids, she said. All money raised at the Kern County Walk stays in Kern County, Sabin said.

The sixth annual Walk will be June 1 at CALM. To register to participate, call 661-327-4647, extension 4290.,