Laughter is the Best Medicine

While she was being treated for pediatric brain cancer, big-hearted and precocious 5-year-old Gabby Krause always brought a container of fart putty to meetings with her medical team. If things became too serious with the doctors, nurses, and her parents, that distinctive pfffftt sound would ring out from Gabby’s pocket and lighten the mood. “Before you knew it, she made everyone laugh and brought some silliness and normalcy to the situation,” said Gabby’s aunt, Amy Krause. “She loved to have fun and make people laugh, even in those circumstances.”

That spirit of fun and “the power of play” led Gabby to make a wish before she died: She wanted every kid in similar life situations in her Denver hospital to have a personalized “bag of fun” like Gabby’s mom packed for treatment days or extended stays. Amy Krause shared, “Her Mom (Tammy Krause, Amy’s sister-in-law) told Gabby, ‘That’s a big wish, we’ll have to see what we can do.’ When Gabby died, we were all obviously devastated, and Tammy asked a friend, ‘How am I supposed to carry on without her?’ Her friend replied, ‘Gabby already told you what to do—take bags of fun to kids going through tough times.’”

In 2004, the Gabby Krause Foundation and Bags of Fun Colorado was founded. Bags of Fun Kansas City followed in 2010. And in 2019, Tammy Krause asked Amy, a pediatric nurse at the time, to start an Omaha chapter. Amy Krause launched Bags of Fun Omaha out of her basement and hasn’t looked back. After delivering 37 personalized bags that first year, Bags of Fun Omaha has steadily grown to help over 200 children each year, and Krause left her nursing practice to become full-time director of the Omaha non-profit. 

With a new partnership to deliver 100 bags to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital next year, Bags of Fun Omaha is set to put a smile on the faces of 250-275 kids in 2024. “I knew from my nursing practice, we would use a rattle, a crib mirror, whatever we could find to distract a child, entertain them while they were being examined or treated, and try to make them smile,” Krause said. “They don’t deserve what they’re going through, so we want to bring happiness into their day and their situation.”

Pre-packed bags of fun aren’t just waiting on shelves to ship to local hospitals when a new child is referred. Every Bag of Fun is custom-packed for each child when the organization gets information about favorite colors, what the child enjoys for fun, and interests such as sports and dance. 

Volunteers custom pack one bag for one child that contains a comfort item such as a blanket or stuffed toy, a socialization item like a board game or card game, a Kindle Fire with a gift card to download books or games, an art or creativity item such as paints, crayons, or a sewing kit, and something silly—in the spirit of Gabby’s fart putty. “The bags bring joy and laughter to the kids and a huge sense of relief for the parents,” said Krause. “Kids can regain their innocence in those times and not become their diagnosis.”

Bags of Fun Omaha is fueled by volunteers and by donations from individuals, companies such as Lozier and Cox, and local foundations such as the Charles E. Lakin Foundation. The organization, which was named Non-Profit of the Year in 2023 by the Sarpy County Chamber of Commerce, has partnered with Omaha-based Fat Brain Toys and Mangelsen’s craft store to receive discounts on bag items. 

Bags of Fun also puts the fun in fundraising with events such as its annual Ice Fishing Tournament in January and a Game-themed Gala in April. The group received some national love during the 2023 National Football League season when former University of Nebraska tight end and current Philadelphia Eagle Jack Stoll sported Bags of Fun mascot “Chuckles” the frog on his Cleats for a Cause during a nationally televised game. “Gabby loved frogs, so that naturally became our mascot,” Krause explained.

From the mom who now stays with her child during treatment to enjoy a few minutes of play, to the young boy in rehab who doubled the time he could stand when he’s busy with his Bag of Fun, to the little girl in hospice care who has some fun things to make friend visits less awkward, the impact of Bags of Fun Omaha is immediate when a bag is delivered and a child’s countenance changes. “A smile is universal,” Krause said, “and every child deserves to experience joy—no matter what they’re going through.”  

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