St. Pete non-profit provides home away from home for families with children in local hospitals

For out-of-town families who have children in local hospitals, hotel stays can be expensive, so a local organization is providing them a home away from home. 

Shannon and Richard Carr are enjoying their family time with their daughter Charlie at the Ronald McDonald House in St. Petersburg, but someone is missing from their family: Charlie's baby sister Amelia.

"My water broke at 30 weeks," said Shannon Carr, Amelia's mom. "And so we went to Tampa General. And while they were doing a routine echocardiogram, they noticed a heart defect that wasn't caught on the anatomy scan." 

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They transferred Shannon to Bayfront Baby Place in St. Pete to deliver Amelia, and she is now three months old. 

"Her left ventricle, the part that pumps to the body, is underdeveloped, and the septum between the two halves of the heart isn't there," Shannon said. 

Amelia will need two surgeries before she can leave the hospital. The family just recently moved back to the Tampa Bay area, but they are about an hour from the hospital. 

"Her health could just change at the flip of a switch kind of thing," said Richard Carr, Amelia's dad. "And so it'd be really difficult trying to deal with not just traffic but different times of day and checking in schedules, all that sort of stuff." 

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They thought about staying at a hotel, but food and housing for extensive stays can get expensive. That's why they are so thankful for the Ronald McDonald House. They provide free food and housing for families in their situation. 

"The fact is families stay for free for as long as needed. Our average stay is 29 nights, which means a family's with us for about a month," said Joe Citro, the director of development and marketing at Ronald McDonald House Charities Tampa Bay. "And so you can imagine the stress that's involved in that." 

So to help keep down stress and provide a comfortable stay for families, Ronald McDonald House is having a Give the Gift of Togetherness campaign.  

"Family is at the heart of what we do, and we really rely on the community during this time of the year to support that. So we're encouraging them to you to get involved in some way and support our mission, providing a home away from home for our families," Citro said. 

"It really is a home away from home. And it means a lot that people are here and so generous and able to take care of all of those other things and alleviate the worry while you're busy with your kiddos," Shannon said.

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Ronald McDonald House Tampa Bay provides meals, accommodations and support to more than 2,000 families a year. They're taking part in the Giving the Gift of Togetherness until December 31. For more information or how to donate, visit