"It's a home away from home," smiled 30-year-old Marshfield native, TJ Slocum. "My parents stayed at the Ronald McDonald House when I was a baby."
TJ has spent the past 13 years as a volunteer, sharing his heart and raising funds and awareness for the Ronald McDonald House. Those who have visited the lobby at the local fast-food staple recognize TJ as the face of the Marshfield branch.
"We stayed at the Ronald McDonald's House in Springfield when TJ was born and his first two Christmases while he was in the hospital," explained TJ's mom, Debbie Slocum. "This organization has helped our family out a lot and this is the way that we are able to give back to them."
The Ronald McDonald House allows families of children who are in the hospital to stay at no cost to them. They have a bedroom, laundry services, a meal provided every night or a kitchen where they can cook themselves, as well as other supplies and resources to ease an already stressful time in a family's life.
"We'd never heard of the Ronald McDonald House at the time TJ was born, but our doctor told us that they would have to send us to St. Louis at any given moment and they wanted us close so we'd be there when he left," said Debbie. "He's had 15 surgeries total and the entire organization has been great. The funds we raise help allow families to spend time with their child and not worry about all of the extras."
The funds raised by Share a Heart Champions like TJ goes directly towards helping local families in their time of need. TJ has previously raised over $127,627 in cash donations for Springfield's two programs and was worried he would not be able to continue with the McTJ night fundraiser this year. Usually, TJ travels from Lebanon to Branson and everywhere inbetween, but he has been unable to safely do that this year.
"TJ just loves to go out and see everybody in the community and was worried about how he would get to sell hearts this year with the pandemic and the McDonald's lobby being closed," said Randy, TJ's father. "It's going to have to be a lot different this year, but we are having it... and it's an extra hour."
The Drive Thru event will be held on Monday, Feb. 22, 2-8 p.m. According to Randy Slocum, they hope to have a tent set up outside with a donation jar and cookies for sale. Those who attend may also get a chance to meet Grimace of McDonaldland. TJ is also looking forward to seeing people at work again, according to his mom.
"My favorite part about working at McDonalds is the lobby," TJ said. "I loved working here for all these years and I miss everyone."
While the pandemic has been rough on everyone, it is preventing TJ from visiting businesses as he normally would to sell hearts and collect donations for his campaign. Hearts are available at McDonald's now for a donation to the Share a Heart campaign and will be available at the Monday McTJ night event from 3 to 8 p.m.
Those who are unable to support our local 14th annual Share a Heart Champion can still make a donation towards TJ's goal by visiting bidpal.net/TJ. 20% of all sales from the event go towards TJ's goal of $10,000 for the Share a Heart Campaign benefitting the Ronald McDonald House.