Lifestyle

Rancho Santa Fe couple, daughter among leaders of 2018 Ronald McDonald House gala

When it comes to supporting Ronald McDonald House Charities, the Straza family feels right at home.

Longtime patrons Jamie and Geosef (Joey) Straza of Rancho Santa Fe will serve as honorary chairs for this year’s ROMP gala, a fundraiser for San Diego’s Ronald McDonald House that is slated for 5:30 to 11:30 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Pendry hotel, 550 J St., San Diego. Their 16-year-old daughter, Julia, is also heavily involved with the event, as she is assisting the executive committee with planning and other details.

Jamie said that she and Joey were humbled to be chosen as honorary chairs, and that it was a surprise.

“Jamie and Geosef Straza were natural choices to be our honorary chairs for this year’s ROMP: Supper Club,” said Chuck Day, president and chief executive officer of Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego. "They have given their time and talent to our families in so many ways for many years. Jamie, Joey and the entire Straza family has had a vital role in our success. They are fantastic ambassadors for our Ronald McDonald House and the work we do caring for families with a child in medical crisis.”

As honorary chairs, Jamie and Joey’s role is to support the gala and to bring the community together to support the cause.

“We want to bring in new people,” Jamie said of their outreach plans, and that their goal is to sell out the event and raise even more money than in previous years.

She noted that there seems to be a misconception by the public that all of the funding for Ronald McDonald House Charities comes from the McDonald’s Corp. or the owners and operators of the franchises.

“Most of the money and support is from the community … about 85 percent of it,” Jamie said. “It takes a local community to get out there and support (this cause).”

The Strazas’ history with the nonprofit organization - and McDonald’s restaurants - stretches back a number of years. Jamie’s father, Philip Louis Palumbo, was a franchisee, and Jamie grew up working in his restaurants. When she was in high school, Jamie would go to Ronald McDonald House to serve dinners, and helped “bring Christmas” to families who were there while their children were being treated for serious, often life-threatening conditions at local hospitals.

Jamie opened her first McDonald’s as a majority owner in July 1995 on Aero Drive in San Diego, in partnership with her dad, and was in business with him and her brother, until her father retired in 2003. She still owns and operates that location, and has four franchises total, stretching from Carmel Mountain Ranch to the Las Americas Premium Outlets in San Ysidro.

While operating restaurants, Jamie has further strengthened her ties to Ronald McDonald House Charities and McDonald’s. She is a member of Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego’s Development Committee, and worked to help establish the charity’s Giving Circles donation program in 2013, with 226 charter members. Giving Circles has since grown to 565 total members, and has raised $15.6 million total.

In addition, Jamie is a board member of the McDonald’s Corp. Women’s Operators Network, and is a member of McDonald’s Corp.’s National Systems Economic Team, a group of 10 to 15 franchisees from across the nation that work with McDonald’s Corp. leadership. Furthermore, she was elected vice president of the McDonald’s Owner/Operator Association of Southern California.

Joey - a Rancho Santa Fe native who is founder and chief executive officer of aerospace manufacturing company VerTechs Enterprises in El Cajon - has also generously supported the Ronald McDonald House Charities and gala over the years.

“Jamie is highly involved, and I love to support her in any way I can,” he said. “She does a tremendous amount of community service, and I’m super proud of her … she’s a go-getter, for sure.”

The Strazas have also raised their children to give back - they have taken family trips to Ronald McDonald House with James (age 12), Jack (age 19) and Julia to read stories, cook and make crafts with children, and donate items such as Padres tickets.

“It’s cool to carry on the (family) tradition … it’s instilled in me,” Jamie said.

Julia has especially embraced this, as this year has taken on an important role for the ROMP gala, and she is also a member of the National Charity League alongside her mom.

“If you tell a 16-year-old that they’re putting on an event at the Pendry (hotel) and they get to plan the music, the entertainment, (etc.) … that’s a 16-year-old’s dream!” Jamie said.

This year’s gala will have a 1920s-inspired theme, and will include a festive cocktail reception, gourmet dinner, live auction and dancing. Funds raised from the event will go toward renovation of the San Diego house’s kitchen and dining areas. About 55 families stay at the location each evening, and thousands more receive meals there during their child’s hospitalization.

“It’s always fun - we want people to have a good time and want them to come back,” Jamie said.

Ticket prices start at $500; for more information, go to https://rmhcsd.org/events/our-events/romp-2018/.

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