Family House Offers a Home Away From Home

School of Medicine

As a referral hospital, UCSF offers care to many patients from distant cities. And if you are the parent of a sick child, you already have enough on your plate to think about without the added stress of how to take care of yourself and the rest of your family in an unfamiliar place.

Family House, a nonprofit, privately funded program, offers a sense of community and stability for those struggling families facing the unimaginable.

Family House primarily serves the families of oncology patients under the age of 18. The families are referred to Family House by social workers at Benioff Children’s Hospital if they live 50 miles outside San Francisco and have significant financial need.

It was founded in 1981 and started off as a single building, located across the street from the parking garage on Irving Street, which still houses up to 10 families a night. It expanded in 2005 to include a four-floor residence called the Koret Family House, located on 10th Avenue, that can house up to 24 families per night.

Family House spares no expense in providing its residents all the comforts of home. In Koret Family House, each floor has a communal living room stocked with toys; a communal kitchen along with shared cooking appliances; a communal dining room; an industrial-sized laundry room with a supply closet full of laundry and cleaning supplies, a community dry goods shelving unit, a shared freezer with bins for each room and a community fridge that includes any foods left by previous tenants that are still within their expiration date.

There is also a communal library room stocked with donated books for all ages, along with a computer station (the house offers free Wi-Fi to its residents). The top floor of the house contains three suites for bigger families requiring extended stays. The accommodations are definitely on par with any affordable hotel.

Unlike a hotel though, Family House is completely free for those families who qualify to stay under its roof, and it offers families the chance to bond with others facing a similar situation — a benefit that should not be overlooked, according to Anna Lark, the weekend manager of Koret House.

Families staying at the Family House aren’t just sitting around worrying. The House offers many established programs to get families out and enjoying The City.

“You’re going through a hard time and we’re here to make it happier,” said Lark.

There are events planned for every holiday; specialized programs designed by volunteers with specific skills (such as baking classes, therapy dog visits and music lessons); passes to museums and the Millberry Union gym; and a new program started by Seamus Berkeley, an artist from, you guessed it, Berkeley, who paints portraits of families staying in the House.

Family House, which does not receive funding from UCSF, is hugely dependent on people who generously donate time, money and supplies to the program.

One well-known contributor to the cause is the band Train, which got its start in San Francisco. After the release of their newest album, the band created a “Save Me, San Francisco” winery and paired with Ghirardelli to make a chocolate of the same name. Ten percent of the proceeds from both goods goes to Family House.

Extraordinary citizens like 86-year-old Violet Banta, who has been volunteering at Family House for six months, are also essential to keeping Family House going. Banta has been enthusiastically promoting the Family House program.

“Wasn’t going to give up these [remaining] years for a cause that isn’t proper,” said Banta. “Nobody knows about Family House, such a shame! I’m not a rich person, but I can help with my mouth by spreading the word.”

If you want to learn about upcoming volunteer opportunities or see what types of donations Family House needs, go to and offer to help out today.