CHICAGO (CBS) -- The need is greater than ever at the Ronald McDonald House – which has expanded downtown, but still has a long wait list.
Ronald McDonald House facilities accommodate families so they can stay close to their hospitalized children. This fall, upticks in RSV and the flu have sent more children to hospitals at a time when there has already been a shortage of beds for families at Chicago's Ronald McDonald House facilities.
CBS 2's Tara Molina spoke with one family who are thankful they were able to get in ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
The Ronald McDonald House closest to Lurie Children's Hospital is located at 211 E. Grand Ave. in Streeterville. It has grown to 80 rooms, but there is still a list of families waiting for a room.
Nicole Helsel said there is so much her family is thankful for this week, but staying steps from her son Jack is everything.
"It's such a comfort, I guess, is the biggest thing," Helsel said.
When we sat down with Nicole Helsel, steps from the Ronald McDonald House room she has called home for a week, we could see it on her face - gratitude.
"When you're scared and you're unknown about a lot of things, just having some stability is helpful," Helsel said.
Helsel is grateful for a place to sleep, eat a hot meal, and unwind so close to Lurie Children's hospital – and close to Jack.
"It just takes a lot of stress off the plate when you don't have to worry about finding a place to eat, and be able to get clean," Helsel said.
The accommodation at Ronald McDonald House allows Helsel and her husband, to focus entirely on Jack and his recovery. Without the Ronald McDonald House, they would need to pay for a long hotel stay – or else not be by Jack's side at all.
Jack was born with a rare liver disease - but the tough 14-year-old hasn't let it slow him down.
"He runs cross country, and he is very active," Helsel said. "He's mature about the process - and just inspires us."
But the family they knew this trip to Chicago for surgery and treatment from their home in Northern Michigan was coming, and it was set to be their longest stay. But Helsel and her husband weren't sure if they'd have a room at the Ronald McDonald house until the day they arrived.
They were lucky to get to Chicago and find one.
"Knowing that there was a waiting list - it was a little nerve-wracking," Helsel said.
Lisa Mitchell of Ronald McDonald House Charities says the Chicago facility is at capacity.
"We've been full for the past number of weeks with an extensive wait list," Mitchell said. "That's very hard. That means that we can't serve all the families that need us."
The Helsel family's story is a reminder during a reflective time of year of not only what we're thankful for, but the need - what others are giving – and the difference made right here in Chicago.
"We have each other, and we have a bed, and we have food, and we have wonderful medical care," said Nicole Helsel. "There's just so much to be thankful for."
For more information on the Ronald McDonald House in Chicago and how you can get involved, follow this link for their website.
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