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St. Louis area McDonald’s owner works her way up to give back

Joan Elhoffer started working for McDonald's when she was just 16. Now, she owns seven McDonald's in the St. Louis area.

WENTZVILLE, Mo. — Just about everyone knows what's on the menu at Mcdonald's. But the restaurant in Wentzville has a secret ingredient.

Joan Elhoffer started working for Mcdonald's when she was just 16.

"I knew somebody on the bus from school that worked at Mcdonald's and he got me an interview," said Elhoffer.

"It was much different than it is today. We didn't have drive-thrus at that time. They hadn't been invented yet," she said.

Since then, Joan has worked her way up from cheeseburgers to big cheese. She owns seven McDonald's in the St. Louis area. She will tell you, however, that there's no moving forward unless you're giving back.

Credit: KSDK

"When COVID kicked in in March of 2020, Joanie rounded up her crew members and said 'let's get this thing going'," remembered Dan Harbaugh.

Harbaugh is Joan Elhoffer's biggest fan. He's the President of Ronald McDonald House Charities in St. Louis.

The Ronald McDonald House is a place for families to call home so they can stay close to their hospitalized children at little to no cost.

"They're coming in here a lot of times and they've never been to St. Louis," explained Harbaugh. "They're being thrown a million different things at them and this takes one worry away from them."

Layla Nolasco is at the Ronald McDonald House from the Dominican Republic. The 25-year-old's joints don't work anymore because of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. She will soon have surgery for six joint replacements.

Credit: KSDK
Layla Nolasco is at the Ronald McDonald House from the Dominican Republic.

"Hopefully after these replacements, I'll be up and walking again," she said.

The Ronald McDonald House had to close during the worst of COVID but it was Joan who helped make sure they had the resources they needed when it was time to re-open.

At her restaurants, she started Round-Up for Ronald McDonald House. It allows customers, if they choose, to round up their order to the nearest dollar with the change going to the charity.

Credit: Joan Elhoffer

Now she trains Mcdonald's owners all over the country to do the same. It's a passion that became personal when she learned how many people needed the Ronald McDonald House.

"I had about 25 employees that could tell me a personal story about their siblings, a friend, a neighbor, and I thought that was unbelievable," said Elhoffer.

In the last 21 months, just in St. Louis, Joan and her customers have helped raise almost $3 million. And young people like Layla could not be more grateful.

"I would think that she would have to be a very special human being with a lot of love, compassion and humanity," she said.

With a little nudge from Joan Elhoffer, instead of super-sizing their fries, St. Louisans super-sized their charitable donations.

One woman showing us all, a different kind of happy meal.

"She's got the biggest heart in the world," said Harbaugh.

Do you know someone Making A Difference? Let Mike know by filling out the form below, or emailing Mike at mbush@ksdk.com.

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