BY MATT SALIS

Breaking News: The food bank at Denver South High School is a fraud. Our investigative research has uncovered the truth about a ring of people providing food to hungry teenagers and their families as a cover for their complex web of unexpected activity. Urban Life Wash Park has the exclusive story of one woman’s ambiguous mosaic of intents.

Her name is Jaclyn Yelich, and she has grown her underground operation from an idea to feed kids in need to a vast network of volunteers, charitable organizations, local businesses, teachers and administrators. Jaclyn’s energy and enthusiasm is constantly pulling more unsuspecting accomplices into her web. Part charisma and part tireless dedication, Jaclyn makes those around her want to do her bidding because her message and her hard-charging attitude is contagious. I thought I was doing a feel-good story about a food bank, but Jaclyn soon had me under her spell of love and connection that frankly goes far beyond food. As I learned during my captivity in a history teacher’s room at Denver South, the food is just a vehicle to the hidden goal of providing hope and binding a population of diversity to a common mission of community.

The Willing Co-Conspirators

To understand the depth of the coercion, let’s start with the network of financial backing and suppliers Jaclyn has cajoled into her conspiracy. The Food Bank of the Rockies provides the Denver South food cartel with non-perishable food, hygiene products and cleaning supplies, while We Don’t Waste (featured in the July edition of Urban Life Wash Park) is the main supplier of produce. Funding for Jaclyn’s array of activities comes from Food for Thought, PTSA donations and a grant she won with her infectious and convincing talk of feeding hungry children. This network provides more than enough food to serve about 130 students a week, and also welcomes families one Saturday a month.

To fully understand the activities of the network, I rode along with longtime volunteer, Joe Welch, on a food pick-up run to The Food Bank of the Rockies. We were assigned a loading dock, received the food as Jaclyn “negotiated,” and were given access to the fresh food center reserved for VIP “business associates.” We sped away in Joe’s unmarked Lexus, and no one was any the wiser.

The Secret Hideout

Back at the school, we stashed food and other supplies in Mr. Marini’s room, another important part of Jaclyn’s ruse. Enrollment at Denver South High School is way up, and there are no spare rooms out of which Jaclyn can conduct her operations, so head varsity football coach and history teacher extraordinaire, Ryan Marini, is in on the scheme. I know Marini as a gangster of the gridiron. Still, I was shocked to learn of his overwhelming generosity in allowing a significant portion of his classroom to be occupied by freezers, refrigerators and dry goods storage for Jaclyn’s empire. She’s clearly corrupted him with her spirit of generosity. Her house of cards would collapse without Marini’s willing and eager cooperation.

As the logistics of the network unfolded before me, I grilled Jaclyn to get to her true motivation behind the 30 plus hours per week she volunteers at the operation. She told me of a hispanic mom with five kids who never misses a family Saturday at the food bank. She is working a low-income job as a single mother after the death of her husband. Just as I suspected, the food provided to this family was just the cover story. Jaclyn made a few calls to her associates, and found some donated furniture for them as well.

Then there’s the Afgani mom with four kids between Denver South and Merrill Middle School whose husband was killed and receives extra support from Jaclyn and her operation. And let’s not forget the Liberian family with four boys living with their grandmother who is confined to a wheelchair. Jaclyn “found” some gift cards (must have fallen off the back of a truck) the boys used to buy a gift for their niece. She tried to hide the evidence, but I uncovered the thank you note that Jaclyn cherishes from that little side deal.

My Stakeout

The cover-up was complete when I attended the opening day of the food bank for this new school year. I watched as over a dozen volunteer “pushers” filled bags with food for unsuspecting students. Luana “The Butcher” told me she likes to work the freezer and make sure the kids get the meat they need. Cindy, in her second year in Jaclyn’s food cartel, told me she loves that this is a pure mission without overhead and 100% volunteer workers. She loves interacting with the kids and seeing their thankful faces.

Lynn and Laura told me about their side hustle. These expert coupon shoppers collect mailed coupons from all of their neighbors and redeem them for free toilet paper, deodorant and shampoo. What a steal. The kids are eager and thankful to receive these “hot” deals.

Ann guarded the door and gave a freebie to any child who brought back a reusable grocery bag from the last time. It was just a little sugar for her loyal friends – where’s the harm in that? In her third year, Ann knew her regulars and gave them a warm and welcoming smile to keep them coming back for more.

The food bank was hopping, and Jaclyn was doing her best to convince me it was all about the food, when mid-sentence, she turned on me and crossed the room in a hurry. She greeted and hugged one of the kids she hadn’t seen since spring, and the sincerity of the embrace was all I needed to see to be convinced of Jaclyn’s ulterior motive.

Busted!

The food bank at Denver South High School isn’t really about the food at all. Jaclyn and her network of loving volunteers and community partners aren’t just trying to feed the hungry. They are trying to build lasting connections that make all of our lives better regardless of economic status. The kids might leave with enough food in their bellies, but everyone involved in this complex operation leaves with warmth in their hearts. That’s the secret behind Jaclyn’s mission – everyone comes hungry for something, and everyone leaves just a little more satisfied and hopeful.

Now that you know the truth about the food bank conspiracy at Denver South High School, I hope you’ll contribute at their website (https://www.denversouthptsa.com/denver-south-food-bank), or by a check made out to the Denver South High School PTSA with “Food Bank” in the memo and mailed to the school at 1700 East Louisiana Avenue, Denver, CO 80210. For more information, please contact Jaclyn at jyelich2@msn.com. But be careful, Jaclyn Yelich can be very convincing, if you know what I mean.

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