At 91, Lil Ries is the oldest volunteer at Westmead’s Ronald McDonald House, but that won’t slow her down.
When the Sun spotted her, the great grandmother of 11 was busily making beds at the Redbank Road home before enjoying a laugh and a cuddle with two-year-old resident and cancer patient, Toby Macphee.
For almost 20 years, the Northmead resident has dedicated her time to the place she calls her ‘‘second home’’ - a home away from home for sick children and their families while they access life saving medical treatment in Sydney.
Over the years, she’s cooked Christmas dinners, planted flower beds and citrus trees in the gardens, cleaned kitchens, washed clothes and has generally been a source of warmth for families facing the illness of a child.
‘‘I get a lot more than I give,’’ Mrs Ries said. ‘‘There are lots of marvellous memories here.’’
Mrs Ries recalled a sick little girl suffering from cancer, staying at the home in about 2000, who was captured in a photograph studying the garden’s potted pansies and petunias as she decided which flower to pick.
‘‘She was only a little toddler at the time, it was the most beautiful photo... Then about three years ago, her family sent me a card to say she’d started high school. It was great to know she was going well.’’
Last year, the same family sent Mrs Ries a card for her 90th birthday.
Executive officer Mike Thomas said Ronald McDonald House Westmead was seeking to double its pool of about 120 volunteers in the next 12 months, to help staff a second facility to be constructed in Westmead soon.
‘‘Last year, we turned away over 400 families, but we’re planning to build a house which has three times the capacity that we have now,’’ Mr Thomas said.
‘‘We’ve got volunteers aged from 18 through to 91.’’
He encouraged potential volunteers to get in touch via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on 9845 0600.