Hearts broken, and mended

November 12, 2003

FOR THE FAMILIES of children battling catastrophic illnesses, the city's Ronald McDonald House is an oasis. For a lone man on Saturday morning, the nonprofit shelter was a plump target. He should have known better.

Besides being illegal, his stealing video game systems from the house's playroom was carelessness doubled. Not only did he let himself be videotaped in the act - which should help police collect him off the street - he tore at the protective social curtain helping these hard-pressed families face down one of the scariest times of their lives.

But such ill behavior is not the Baltimore way. And as news of the theft has spread, so has the more characteristic generosity of cityfolk and their neighbors near and far.

Offers to replace the stolen equipment and to donate more games and toys have poured in, says the house's executive director, Marianne Rowan-Braun. Business leaders, police and some of the families who stayed there in the past have called or dropped by to offer condolences and cash. A 12-year-old boy phoned the house to offer his own game system.

For the 50 kids and their parents from Maryland and around the world who are currently staying in the house, the past few days have been a quick course in harsh reality - and in the power of faith in one's fellow men and women. A handy lesson in hope, which in this house is just what the doctor ordered.

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