Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Kohl's marketing team decks the halls of Ronald McDonald House in Wauwatosa

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WAUWATOSA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- A lot of holiday celebrations are looking different this year, but that isn’t stopping a dedicated group of Santa’s helpers at the Ronald McDonald House in Wauwatosa. Every year, the visual marketing team from Kohl’s comes out to deck the halls. They set an elaborate light display outside featuring presents, ornaments and Christmas trees.

“Whoa! They're coming, Shelly,” one of the volunteers yelled as a three-foot ornament started rolling down the hill in front of the house.

Nearby, massive gift boxes were being stacked up, and lights were being strung everywhere.

“The team and I are really excited, every year, to be able to do this event,” said Sandy Cherry. “We look forward to it all year long.”

Cherry is the visual presentation manager at Kohl’s. The team is responsible for all of the displays and decorations you see at the stores.

“We've had a great day today weather-wise, sometimes it's freezing,” she said with a laugh. “But, either way, we're thrilled to volunteer for Ronald McDonald.”

Considering the job they do all week long, it makes sense Cherry and the team are good at decorating.

“They're the little elves that show up in the store and make everything look pretty,” said Tara Geiter, Kohl’s director of community relations.

Each piece is staked into place, so it can withstand any winter weather. Every year for the last 10, these volunteers have been decorating at the Ronald McDonald House.

“This year, it looks like a lot of candy canes and Santa hats and Christmas lights outside,” Geiter said, surveying the scene.

But this year, these elves are all wearing masks and trying to stay six feet apart, even when carrying the bulky decorations.

“Definitely volunteering has looked different,” Geiter said. “Normally, you'd see high fives and hugs and all that, and obviously that's not something we're doing.”

Inside the Ronald McDonald House, it looks a little different, too. The Kohl’s team picked out shiny green garland to decorate inside.

“Last year we did new green trim in 100 stores, so we decided we'd use some of the prototypes from that,” Cherry said.

But it’s Ronald McDonald House volunteers putting it up.

“Typically, we would invite them in and really have them deck the halls inside. This year of course, like everything else, that's different,” said Melissa Marney.

Marney is the marketing director at the Ronald McDonald House Eastern Wisconsin. She said keeping families safe during the pandemic is their top priority. Families are here from far away to get medical care for their sick kids.

“Even during Covid, we've never closed our doors or stopped admitting families,” Marney said.

That means families will be staying at the house through the holidays, and kids need to know Santa can still find them. Marney took CBS 58 on a tour inside, stopping at one special door.

“Dropping that token into this fountain is what unlocks the magical door,” she said, pointing at a fountain next to the door.

Once inside, the Magic Room as they call it, looks a little like Santa’s Workshop. Shelves are lined with toys from the floor to the ceiling.

“As you can imagine, a lot of ooh and ahhing,” Marney said.

Each child can select one toy and one book. There are even gift cards available for the older kids.

“The generosity of our community is what makes this house a home,” Marney said.

The Ronald McDonald House can serve 70 families at a time. They’re hosting 20-30 families right now. Making it feel like home is important.

“They get so excited when they see the lights come on. We plug them in and they're like, oh my gosh, Santa's coming,” Cherry said.

Geiter said it’s an important gift Kohl’s can give this time of year.

“I think our associates have been able to see that kind of impact first-hand and it's pretty meaningful and important,” she said.

And it’s a reminder of what this time of year is all about.

“When those lights twinkle, so do their eyes. It's just the best thing to see,” Marney said.

Marney said RMDH is using toys differently this Christmas, since they have fewer children than usual staying at the house. But she said gift card donations always go a long way towards helping families celebrate the holidays.

For more information, visit https://rmhc-easternwi.org/.

And if you’d like to nominate someone for Natalie’s Everyday Heroes, send Natalie a message at NShepherd@cbs58.com.

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