Despite some delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Northland's first Ronald McDonald House is set to open near the end of January in Duluth.

Construction started in July on the Ronald McDonald House Northland on the fourth floor of Essentia Health's Fifth Avenue Building, 503 E. Third St., after years of conversations. The space was expected to open this fall, but was delayed due to the pandemic.

"It has delayed our opening, but I think we're making the best of the situation that we can," said Jill Evenocheck, president and CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities Upper Midwest. "It still feels like we're on track as much as we can be and I'm proud of the work that's gone into this project."

The much anticipated project came after continued conversations between Essentia Health and Ronald McDonald House Charities Upper Midwest. The charity organization helped fund a waiting area at Essentia Health three years ago which sparked a new interest in developing an overnight space.

"Conversations have gone on and off for a period of 10 years," Evenocheck said. "We agreed it was the right time to work together and create a free overnight space for families here in the Northland."

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The charity currently supports five facilities: two in St. Paul, two in Minneapolis and one in Rochester. This will be its first house in the Northland.

The facility will provide free housing for up to five families of pediatric patients at either St. Luke's or Essentia Health. Each bedroom will have its own private bathroom and the shared space will include a full kitchen, family room, laundry and a pantry full of dry goods. Staff on site will serve dinner every day and brunch will be included on the weekends. Social workers will help determine potential families based on the severity of the patient's medical needs.

While Evenocheck said that construction on the house has gone well, she cited a few hurdles along the way.

An artist rendering of the Ronald McDonald House Northland family room. (Essentia Health Foundation)
An artist rendering of the Ronald McDonald House Northland family room. (Essentia Health Foundation)

"There have been supply chain issues with appliances and other items that we have no control over," she said. "But we just sort of roll with the punches on that."

Kris Henry, senior adviser for Essentia's Vision Northland, said there have been adjustments along the way.

"For example we couldn't get the refrigerator that we originally wanted because it wasn't available. But then we just made the adjustment and continued on from there," Henry said. "We're almost across the finish line, barring any major hiccups."

Volunteers are assembling and moving donated furniture into the spaces over the next two weeks. Once the site is up and running, Henry said she's eager to return and volunteer her time.

"It's been a wonderful project to work on and I've been very privileged to be a part of something that brings this type of service to the community," Henry said. "I'm planning to assemble a crew to come in and cook some meals for families when it's possible and safe to do so. I'll be glad to stay connected."

The site is going through a "great housewarming" period and accepting cash and in-kind donations. A wish list of items is available at rmhtwincities.org/ways-to-help/index#wishlist along with more information about the new house.