IT took a week for the march of the coronavirus to transform the 29-year-old operations of Ronald McDonald House from a warm, embracing lifeline for families in need to more of a hotel.
In late February, its chief executive officer, Ross Bingham had one of his many meetings with the charity's global partners and realised the operations he oversees in Northern NSW, including at John Hunter Children's Hospital, would have to cut ties with vital external support.
"We set up a national committee to make decisions daily. The hospitals were concerned about a massive outbreak and needing every bed available," he said.
"In a week we went from wondering whether we could continue our meal program, where volunteer groups come in to cook meals for our families, to closing everything in the house and restricting it to families - so no volunteers, because many of them are over 65 and at risk of illness."
"No one has experienced anything like this and the rate of change for the month and a half until this week has been incredible, never seen anything like it."
Accommodating the families of ill children who are in hospital, Ronald McDonald House has 18 units at John Hunter Children's Hospital and has had to reduce its operations to allow just six families, all with children with low immune systems.
"These were families who were going to be there long-term and they understood the processes. We couldn't take a risk on a cross contamination of a family coming from outside," he said.
The two RMH family rooms inside JHCH have shut and the room in the neo-natal ICU ward remains open.
Mr Bingham says the JobKeeper program had allowed the charity to keep on its 34 staff, including 21 who are full time. But the House at JHCH, he says, has changed from being a home run with care and love by staff and volunteers to more of a hotel.
"Families can sleep and cook and go to hospital, still with support and a secure place, but it's not the usual atmosphere we have. It's sad, there are not as many families or people, which is just not our House," he said.
The lockdown has dealt a massive funding blow to Ronald McDonald House, which receives no government support. One fifth of its funds comes from McDonalds and the remainder from the endless fundraising it does in-house, and that of individuals and groups.
Coronavirus stopped that.
Amid the gloom, however, comes the 30-day Great Kindness Challenge.
The initiative by RMH and The Greater Bank encourages individuals to make the most of their time in isolation by completing one kind deed a day for 30 days while raising money for a good cause. People can go to Ronald McDonald House's website to register for the initiative, with every dollar raised going directly to the charity. The Greater will match every donation up to $3000.
"We were not wanting to focus on the sad side of not being able to do what we normally do, and flipping that to offer kindness," Mr Bingham said.
"It's about looking outwards instead of inwards."
Matthew Hingston, the Greater's head of marketing and customer experience, said the Challenge allowed it to provide valuable assistance and spread goodwill across the community.
Together, not Alone is a partnership between Out of the Square, the Newcastle Herald and the Greater Bank. Its aim is to inspire some positivity in these difficult times and will feature a series of stories that explore kindness, innovation, creativity, celebration and mindfulness among businesses and the community.
If you have a story worth telling, contact Penelope Green: firstname.lastname@example.org
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