On a clear, chilly night just weeks before Thanksgiving in 2017, anticipation filled the air on the patio of St. Jude Target House in Memphis, Tenn. Hot apple cider was passed around, and a guitarist kept patients and families of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital entertained.
The families were eagerly awaiting the introduction of Chip and Joanna Gaines. The couple was there to unveil their renovation of the communal dining room at Target House, a project in collaboration with St. Jude partner Target. In the buzz of the evening, it was difficult to tell who was more excited about meeting Chip and Joanna — the kids or their parents. As for the Gaineses, they were there for the kids.
We want these kids to get better. We want them to get back home. But if we can make them feel just a little bit closer to home, even if it’s for a second, it’s worth it.
The first phase of Target House opened in 1999 with 50 apartments to accommodate families with children who are being treated at St. Jude for 90 days or more. The second phase came three years later with another 48 units.
Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. Target House is one of three housing facilities for St. Jude patient families.
At the end of a long day, Target House is a place for families to find rest and relaxation, to play and talk, and to simply be a family together. “I wanted to make this space feel as comfortable as possible for them,” Joanna shared. “I wanted them to feel a sense of home away from home when they go there to eat and to gather and to spend time with one another.”
The families of St. Jude were excited to meet them. Following several welcome remarks to the crowd assembled on the patio, the doors were flung open, and kids and parents alike flooded in to take in their surroundings and eat dinner together.
The space is open and airy, brightly lit with good lines and imaginative details that give the dining hall a feeling of home. Chip said one of his favorite pieces is a sign that reads: “Together is my favorite place to be.”
Chip and Joanna served dinner to the patients and families who filled the dining room and spilled out onto the patio where, as a finale, Chip had his head shaved as part of his recent fundraising initiative, #OperationHaircut. Before the barber did his job, Chip invoked St. Jude founder Danny Thomas who once said, “I’d rather have a million people give me a dollar than one give me a million.”
Chip’s original fundraising goal was $50,000, but in the end, thousands of people on social media donated to reach a total of $230,000 for St. Jude, all of whom — in the end — got to see Chip lose his locks.