By Natasha Brown

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — On Tuesday, we will bring you our Ronald McDonald House Charities Virtual Telethon. Ronald McDonald Houses offer a warm, comfortable place for families to stay together while they care for a sick or injured child.

The importance of family has extra special meaning during Thanksgiving, but this Thanksgiving is different because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As our Natasha Brown shows you, the pandemic has also changed life inside the Ronald McDonald House.

In an instant, it seems like our lives came to a screeching halt when the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping across the country in mid-March.

“I had my surgery on March 11,” said Nicole Ingiannia.

No one felt that crippling feeling more than the Ingiannia family. Nicole had just given birth to her son Anthony who was diagnosed with spina bifida.

“He was diagnosed with spina bifida at our 20-week ultrasound. His spine didn’t form properly,” Ingiannia said. “We had surgery at CHOP while he was still in the womb.”

Mom and baby headed back to the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia, but their stay would never be the same.

“All the COVID restrictions started happening while I was still in the hospital so by the time I got to Ronald on March 15, they had already stopped visitors,” Ingiannia said. “It was shortly after that, that they even stopped letting people into the house so we got in just in time.”

Just in time to see a home that’s usually bustling with families and planned meals and activities, feel a bit more empty with the eery quietness of uncertainty.

“The house was very empty as far as guests went and there were some changes in the house as far as now the meals were made and you took them to your room, whereas before everybody kinda congregated,” Ingiannia said. “At some point, everyone had to start wearing masks.”

Staff members at the Ronald McDonald House remained calm even in the midst of daily uncertainty, soldiering through as an unwavering and steady source of care for families.

“In the midst of all the uncertainty and the scariness, there was so much positivity from them, so much compassion, they’re so friendly. Every day, you were just greeted with a smile,” Ingiannia said.

Little Anthony is 4 months old and doing very well at home with his mom and dad and big brother Joey.

This grateful family is still left with a special place in their hearts for the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia, a place that made all the difference in their lives during a life-altering, unprecedented pandemic.

“I think it’s an amazing cause to donate to,” Ingiannia said. “They really live by their mission of keeping families together.”

You can help families in their time of need. Join us on Tuesday for our Ronald McDonald House Charities Virtual Telethon. It’s from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. You can also join in on Twitter and at cbsphilly.com/rmhc.

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