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East County Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020 7 months ago

McNeal student spreads happiness to children in Lakewood Ranch

Abby's Love provides children's goodie bags for deputies and fire fighters in East County.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

Abby Simpson isn’t usually a perfectionist, but when it comes to her project, Abby’s Love, everything has to be exactly right.

Simpson started Abby’s Love last October by making goodie bags to give to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office or East Manatee Fire Rescue so they can distribute to them when they come in contact with kids while on duty.

Simpson, a fourth grader at Gilbert W. McNeal Elementary School, said the items in the goodie bags will help children in stressful situations.

“Making kids happy makes me feel happy inside,” she said. 

Simpson originally thought of collecting food and clothes for the homeless or delivering balloons to children in hospitals, but she decided making her goodie bags would be the best option.

“The police are good people, but if they’re at your house, it’s most likely not for the best reasons,” she said.

So far, she’s created more than 250 bags with the help of her mother, Kelli, her father, Aaron, and brother, Taylor.

When creating the bags, Simpson goes online with her mother to look at the different toys she wants to buy for the bags. She tries to keep her budget between $100 and $120. 

“I always like to have another person for opinions on my stuff so it’s either my mom or sometimes my dad,” Simpson said. 

In an assembly line, Abby Simpson puts a coloring book and crayon in the bag, Kelli Simpson puts in two other toys, and Taylor Simpson closes the bag and puts an “Abby’s Love” sticker on it. 

Once they’re done, Kelli Simpson works with members of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office to schedule a time for when she and her daughter can give them the bags.

Simpson collects monetary and toy donations from friends, family and community members to be able to put her bags together. For example, 300 Beanie Bags were donated to Abby’s Love.

“I was so amazed and so shocked and so thankful,” Simpson said. 

Working on Abby’s Love has caused Simpson to learn time management as she juggles going to school, finishing her homework, doing other activities at home and putting together her bags. She said it takes about two days to put together a batch of at least 50 bags.

“It’s a fun process but very busy,” Simpson said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s fun.”

Capt. Robert Mealy with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office has received “nothing but positive feedback” about the bags from his deputies and he said kids love them.

“For [Simpson] to have that insight and compassion to be inspired to do this is incredible,” Mealy said. “I’ve been a cop for 24 years, and I have never seen that before."

Mealy said the bags help law enforcement officers develop relationships with the children who receive them.

“It’s forging a bond that quite frankly will make a kid be able to approach a police officer later and not be scared or apprehensive,” he said. “That’s what we’re looking for. A lot of times people only deal with the police in bad, traumatic situations. We want kids to be able to approach law enforcement in a positive way and know they can come up to law enforcement and talk to them.”

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