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Omaha Magazine

Worried Mother Volunteer to Pizza Delivery: Ronald McDonald House Resident Gives Back

Aug 31, 2020 11:52AM ● By Bryan Vomacka
Tara Maco-Guillen with pizza boxes

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Tennessee resident Tara Maco-Guillen gave birth to twin girls Katerina and Emma in December 2015. While bringing any child into the world has its share of stress and challenges, Katerina’s birth was especially complicated. She developed necrotizing enterocolitis, a condition in which part of the bowel dies, and after emergency surgery was left with eight centimeters of her small intestine and a low chance of survival.

Fortunately, one of Katerina’s surgeons helped Tara connect with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, who accepted Katerina into their Intestinal Rehabilitation Program.

While there was hope on the horizon, Tara was now faced with the daunting task of traveling to a new hospital in an unfamiliar city and state, and leaving her husband, son, and her other newborn daughter at home in Memphis, Tennessee.

“It was a scary time because I didn’t know how things were going to go for my daughter,” she said.

Then she discovered the Ronald McDonald House.

“I found out I would be staying at the Ronald McDonald House a few days before I arrived,” Tara said. “At the time I didn’t know what that would entail but I just knew that I was willing to do whatever I needed to for my daughter and to be with her and support her.”

A Ronald McDonald House provides families a place to stay when they have to travel away from home for hospital care. A family can stay in a room for no charge, or for a small donation of $25 or less. They also receive food and access to laundry services. 

Katerina received care for short bowel syndrome at UNMC for two months. Tara stayed at Ronald McDonald House for the entire two months—a long time to be away from family, especially another newborn daughter.

Mother and daughter then returned home down south and Tara, a member of the Navy, began work to secure a transfer to Omaha. Katerina would continue to need hospital care and she wanted it to be with the same doctors who had been with her since she was a few weeks old.

The family moved to Omaha in December 2016. While Katerina continued her hospital care, Tara transformed her role at Ronald McDonald House. Once in need of a place to stay, she now assists families living at the house by donating “Meals That Heal,” a program where members of the community can donate food to those currently living at the Ronald McDonald House.

“Ever since I stayed there I just felt really passionate about the charity,” Tara said. “I figured it’s the least I could do.”

Hunter Samuels, the stewardship and communications manager at Ronald McDonald House Omaha, said that Tara brings more than food to the families staying at the house.

“All of our Meals That Heal volunteers can sit and talk with the families and hear their stories, but Tara understands those stories in a way others don’t because she’s been where those other parents are sitting,” Samuels said.

Her time staying at Ronald McDonald House adds a layer of meaning to her charitable giving.

“Interacting with the people who stay at the house is always very moving because I understand how all of these people feel,” Tara said.

Ronald McDonald House knows how significant it is that someone who received a place to stay decided to give back to the organization. Samuels said they are beyond grateful for Tara’s continued involvement.

“She knows firsthand how important it is to have a hot meal waiting for you when you get back from a long day at the hospital, and I know all the families in the house truly appreciate what Tara does for them,” Samuels said.

Ronald McDonald House was there for Tara throughout one of the most difficult periods of her life, and because of that, she said, it will always have a special place in her heart. Donating meals every month is her way of returning the favor.

“You just never know when people are going to need that little bit of help and it makes a big difference in people’s lives,” she said.

No one knows that better than her, and that’s why people staying at Ronald McDonald House on the third Tuesday of the month look forward to seeing Tara coming in the door with pizzas from Little Caesars.

Initially, she made a variety of meals for the program, but these days she buys the families at Ronald McDonald House pizza to make her life easier. Katerina is doing much better now, but like most kids with short bowel syndrome, her health can be a bit of a rollercoaster. 

“We just try and take things one day at a time,” Tara said. 

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This article was printed in the September 2020 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.