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Cleveland's Ronald McDonald House reorganizes

Tamara Spotts, left, along with fellow organizer Patty Clair, center, talked recently with Linda Peters, the volunteer coordinator at the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland. The three women are standing in the storage room at the house, which recently underwent a rearranging blitz thanks to more than a dozen area organizers.

What would you do if six vans pulled up to your house one day, jammed with dozens of boxes of free laundry detergent, a mountain of paper towels and, oh, probably enough pop to satisfy the thirst of a conquering army?

First, you'd probably say, "Thanks!"

Then you would panic, wondering where to put all the stuff.

If you were one of the workers at the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland on Euclid Avenue, a temporary home to families with hospitalized children or those undergoing treatments, your pri mary goal would be to hustle all boxes and packages away from the living areas into a concrete storage room lined with metal shelves. Then you'd quickly shut the door on the overflowing chaos, opening it again only to replenish kitchen or bathroom shelves.

And, if you had a spare moment, then maybe you'd work at achieving a semblance of order in that back room, as well as in the two double kitchens with cupboards overflowing with duplicate pots, pans, grilling accoutrements, dozens of platters and, of course, hundreds of glasses and utensils.

That strategy worked fairly well for the Cleveland house for years. Yes, it was messy. No, the volunteer staff never found a spare moment to organize the house that's bustling 24 hours a day with families and children trying to live a normal life amid often traumatic medical issues.

Cue the organizational cavalry to the rescue.

Mark Destino, resident manager, and Linda Peters, the house's volunteer coordinator, are happy people, thanks to the generosity and expertise of 13 professional organizers. In January, the team arrived at the house and took over.

"They came, saw, pitched and labeled," said Destino, who lives with his family at the 37-room facility.

"Who knew there was a floor in these rooms?" he added, laughing.

Tamara Spotts, a professional organizer by trade and volunteer worker at the house by desire, is the originating angel.

The 37,000-square-foot home, with its sprawling 2-acre playground and gardens and multiple wings, was screaming for organization, said Spotts. It is just like any other busy home, multiplied by more than two dozen times all the normal clutter of daily life, said Spotts.

"We are almost always full," said Peters. Each year, the house is home to more than 1,100 families from throughout the world. Hundreds of volunteers help run and maintain the facility, which only charges families $20 a night.

Spotts rallied the troops -- 13 members of the National Organization of Professional Organizers -- who spent seven hours at the Ronald McDonald House bringing order to chaos.

Two weeks later, Destino and Peters proudly pointed out that the organization remained, despite several deliveries and dozens of meals prepared in the kitchens since.

Patty Clair, who along with Spotts was there for the organizing marathon, was impressed at the event's success.

"Organization is not just about throwing out things," said Clair, who works at simply put, llc. Being organized means reducing duplication and figuring out how a room is being used -- and by whom.

They also had to recognize that Northeast Ohioans are very generous. Volunteers at the house never know what vans full of food, clothing, nonperishables or cleaning products will arrive. So the receiving room/storage area had to be organized to contain this ebb and flow of boxes.

In the kitchen, Spotts and Clair said, dozens of duplicate bowls and containers were assessed and assigned a drawer. If there was too much duplication, items were set aside for the giant "garage sale" held by the house each May as a fund-raiser.

Every drawer and cupboard in the kitchens was emptied and then refilled, said Clair. Drawers were labeled because new people are constantly coming and going in the house.

"I was impressed with how much work was done prior" to the organizing day, said Destino, as the group toured one of the kitchens.

"We had 22 pages of details," answered Spotts, nodding. The details, she said, were a needs assessment for the house. "It was our blueprint for the day."

"It's all about going with the flow," said Peters, the volunteer coordinator. "What you end up with is a usable solution."

Now, residents can relax about at least one thing in their uniquely stressful lives -- if they go for a snack, they will be able to find everything immediately, thanks to all the labeling.

At 3 a.m. on a restless night, that's probably very comforting.

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