Home away from home: Generous families are opening their doors to weary medical travelers.

Mike and Mary McConnell have been inviting strangers into their Boston home for nearly 30 years.

First, they hosted a man and his son who had traveled to Boston from the mountains of Ecuador in hopes of getting medical care at some of the top hospitals in the country.

"It was Christmas time. They helped us decorate our Christmas tree," Mary remembers.


Later, a Hungarian family came through Boston and stayed with the McConnells, sharing Thanksgiving dinner and their home.

"That was fun because they didn't speak any English, and of course we didn't speak any Hungarian," Mike said. He and the father both knew a little bit of Russian, so that was the only way they could communicate with the people living in their guest room.

Mike and Mary McConnell. Photo used with permission.

Since 1989, the McConnells have participated in a Boston-based program that matches families traveling for medical care with hosts nearby who can offer a free place to stay.

The nonprofit, Hospitality Homes, was founded by a group of medical professionals who were deeply moved after seeing so many people forced to sleep in hospital waiting rooms or in their cars while waiting to get care (or shelling out huge sums of money for hotels).

No one should have to spend more than a night sprawled out on one of these. Photo via iStock.

The medical professionals started opening up their own homes to families in need. And soon, others followed.

"Families come to us and volunteer out of the kindness of their own hearts," says Shanon Heckethorn, the organization's vice president of development and communications. She compares it to a free Airbnb. Guests stay with the host families for up to three months, free of charge.

She says it won't make everything easier for families going through a difficult time, but it is one less thing — and one less cost — to worry about.

Visitors often try to find housing at more well-known organizations like the Ronald McDonald House first.

But frequently, and especially in cities like Boston, they find that everyone is full or that they don't meet certain requirements (lots of places specialize in pediatric or cancer patients, for example).

Hospitality Homes serves all area hospitals, people of all diagnoses, and all ages. While the organization only operates in the greater Boston area at the moment, they plan to take their project nationwide soon.

Having a cozy place to go after a long day of appointments, medical tests, or surgeries means a lot to the guest families.

Check out this note to Mike and Mary from one of their recent visitors:

A thank-you letter to the McConnells from some recent guests. Photo used with permission.


Most of the folks who volunteer know what a little extra support can mean during a time of crisis. Often they are cancer survivors or medical professionals who have seen the struggle up close and just want to find a way to give back.

The hosts "get back more than they give," Heckethorn says, noting that a lot of families keep in touch for years after the experience with text messages, photos, and emails.

"A human connection doesn't happen every single time. But when it does, it's magic."

The McConnells say hosting isn't always easy, but it's usually well worth it.

With some guests, Mike and his wife simply offer a place to stay and a few pleasantries when they cross paths in the evenings. With others, though, the relationship evolves over the course of the stay.

The couple who stayed with the McConnells most recently, for example, watched "Game of Thrones" with their son and his wife (who also live in the home) every Sunday night over their three-month stay.

Still, Mary says opening your home means "you have to be willing to share your privacy. We've encouraged a lot of our friends to try [hosting]. Not everyone can do that.""

"It's just something we can do," Mike adds. "We have this big house and most of our family has left. We've found it to be immensely rewarding."

It's amazing to see such a powerful, intimate example of people helping other people in their greatest time of need.

As some of the McConnells recent guests wrote in their thank-you card: "You have all showed us that even in bad situations there is always someone willing to give love and friendship. We can never repay you for your kindness and only hope to one day be able to pay it forward to others."

More

I'm staring at my screen watching the President of the United States speak before a stadium full of people in North Carolina. He launches into a lie-laced attack on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and the crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!"

The President does nothing. Says nothing. He just stands there and waits for the crowd to finish their outburst.

WATCH: Trump rally crowd chants 'send her back' after he criticizes Rep. Ilhan Omar www.youtube.com

My mind flashes to another President of the United States speaking to a stadium full of people in North Carolina in 2016. A heckler in the crowd—an old man in uniform holding up a TRUMP sign—starts shouting, disrupting the speech. The crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!"

Keep Reading Show less
Recommended
via EarthFix / Flickr

What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

Planet

Policing women's bodies — and by consequence their clothes — is nothing new to women across the globe. But this mother's "legging problem" is particularly ridiculous.

What someone wears, regardless of gender, is a personal choice. Sadly, many folks like Maryann White, mother of four sons, think women's attire — particularly women's leggings are a threat to men.

While sitting in mass at the University of Notre Dame, White was aghast by the spandex attire the young women in front of her were sporting.

Keep Reading Show less
More

Men are sharing examples of how they step up and step in when they see problematic behaviors in their peers, and people are here for it.

Twitter user "feminist next door" posed an inquiry to her followers, asking "good guys" to share times they saw misogyny or predatory behavior and did something about it. "What did you say," she asked. "What are your suggestions for the other other men in this situation?" She added a perfectly fitting hashtag: #NotCoolMan.

Not only did the good guys show up for the thread, but their stories show how men can interrupt situations when they see women being mistreated and help put a stop to it.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture