The halls are eerily quiet for a school of more than 500 kids.
And it’s now, when the children at Clear Creek Elementary in Shawnee are occupied with morning math or history, or writing words on whiteboards, that Amy Freeman and Erin Krehbiel like to strike.
They wheel their loaded cart down the hall, stopping at lockers and finding room in backpacks for enough food to get a couple of dozen kids through the weekend. Others — not involved in the Harvesters food program — also get a little treat, with a note wishing them a good weekend.
If the moms must talk to each other, they whisper. When they open the lockers, they’re careful not to make a lot of clacking noise.
This is secret stuff: the work of the school’s “locker fairies.”
“We don’t want the kids (who get BackSnacks) to stick out — that’s why it’s important they see us getting into all of the lockers,” Krehbiel said minutes before the two started their Friday delivery routine.
Added Freeman: “We tried to get caught by the little kids early on so the word would catch on.”
More than two years ago, Clear Creek joined Harvesters’ BackSnack program, which now serves about 19,000 children in the 26-county area the food bank covers. Although the elementary school in the De Soto School District has a small percentage of kids on free and reduced-price lunches, educators knew when the economic downturn hit that some families could use a little help.
And Principal Carrie Handy is big on educating the whole child. That means supporting all their needs, not just their academics during the school day.
“I think it really sends them home and gives them an opportunity to do well on their homework,” Handy said of the weekend packs of food. “Their hunger needs are being met. It also gives families that extra little support that could be needed.”
The trouble was no one wanted to single out the small number of kids who receive the food. In some schools that participate in BackSnacks, several dozen kids get the packs each Friday. It’s become a fun group to belong to.
But when there’s a smaller number, it can be difficult to make sure no stigma is attached. Of the 500 or so Clear Creek students, only 25 receive the weekly packs this year. Last year it was 20, and 15 the school year before that.
Freeman and Krehbiel, active volunteers in the school, came up with the fairy idea.
“They feel passionately about not singling any students out,” said Andrew Frye, school improvement specialist at Clear Creek. “They make it look like they’re floating through the building.”
The volunteers want all the kids to feel special. Although they deliver the BackSnacks to the same students each Friday, they want to leave a treat behind at least once in the school year for the other Clear Creek kids.
So they use a checklist. By the time the school year is up, everyone will have been visited by the locker fairies.
“Every kid should know they’re loved and cared about,” Krehbiel said. “And everybody needs help. This is our way we can help those families.”
Freeman knows the kids will be excited — they always are when they get a treat. But she also wants others to feel the meaning behind the BackSnacks every Friday.
“We live in a fairly affluent area,” Freeman said. “You tend to forget because things are good in your area that they may not be so good for someone else.
“I hope the parents know they’re not alone. The school looks out for them. Others look out for them.”
On the recent Friday morning, it took about 30 minutes to deliver the treats.
The fairies were caught a time a two, but that’s OK. They say it only adds to the specialness of what they do.
Like when a girl in one of the third-grade classes peeked out and saw the moms at a couple of lockers.
“I see you,” the girl whispered. “The locker fairies.”
Krehbiel smiled and whispered back:
“Don’t tell anybody — it’s our secret,” she said. “Just like Santa.”
KC Challenge: Childhood Hunger
For the fourth year, The Star is partnering with Harvesters on a virtual food drive to raise money for the area’s hungriest children.
Over the first three years, the drive raised almost $700,000. All the money goes to Harvesters’ BackSnack program, which provides low-income children with two breakfasts, two other meals and other snacks each Friday during the school year to tide them over until they go back to school Monday.
If you’d like to give, go to FeedingKCKids.Harvesters.org. You can donate in a loved one’s name, with reader dedications published in The Star’s Christmas edition. The deadline for dedications is 5 p.m. Monday.
Harvesters also is accepting checks by mail. Send to Harvesters, 3801 Topping Ave., Kansas City, MO 64129. Checks must be received by 3 p.m. Friday to make the dedication deadline.