Jefferson Award Winner Offers Compassion On Wheels

PALO ALTO (KPIX) There’s s a lot of stress on families miles from home getting medical treatment for a sick child. That’s when this week’s Jefferson Award winner rolls in offering care and compassion — and smiles — on wheels.

Michael Rubenstein loads up donated toys, toiletries, and refreshments on a specially designed cart… but he gives away much more:

“I bring my spirit,” he explained. “My willingness to help.”

He offers the goodies for free from the “Happy Wheels Cart” that he rolls through Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.    Many of his grateful recipients are children with life-threatening illnesses and their families who stay at the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford — a home away from home while they get medical treatment.

Nine-year-old Isaias Chavez of Nevada has spina bifida. His mother, Karen Aguiar, appreciates Rubenstein’s big heart.

“When Isaias was in the hospital, he already knew when he was coming down,”  Aguair remembered. “It brightens up the day for him.”

“I get more from doing this than I could ever give,” Rubenstein added.

When the Happy Wheels Cart started in 2011, the original cart was big, clunky, and hard to maneuver. Rubenstein was instrumental in helping design a new one.

With his input, Smart Design in San Francisco built the newer cart that’s friendly, functional, and as bright as Rubenstein’s smile. And the new design is reaping benefits nationwide: Ronald McDonald Houses across the country are now replicating the cart for their own regions.

Ronald McDonald House’s Family Services Director Bri Seone says families find him approachable.

“He’s able to engage with them on a very comfortable level,” Seone said.

Rubenstein was first inspired to volunteer after a Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia helped his relatives while his nephew was treated for a heart condition. He came back to the Bay Area and volunteered in Palo Alto. Back then, the House only had 13 guest rooms. Now it has 47, and will have 76 more in two years.

Over 30 years, Rubenstein has run the front desk, started weekly dinner deliveries for families, served as a board member, and even more, according to CEO Annette Eros.

“We were talking about needing a van to transport kids here during the summer. And he said, ‘You need a van? I’ll make sure that happens.’ He got it for us!” Eros said.

“To be able to support this amazing organization is really an honor for me,” said Rubenstein.

So for bringing care and compassion on wheels, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Michael Rubenstein.

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