MT. JULIET, Tenn. (WKRN) — When Abby Simpson was in the 4th grade, she quickly began to realize that some kids lacked the same comforts she enjoyed at her own home.
“I have a nice house, I have all the toys that I want, everything I need, but other kids didn’t have any of that,” she said. “I watch cop shows with my parents like Live PD, and I see the condition that some of these kids are living in, and it makes me really notice how it is for them.”
The thought spurred her into action, and now at 12-years-old, Simpson has impacted countless children through a project she calls Abby’s Love. Her efforts focus on providing small care packages and gift bags for police to give to children during traumatic incidents and other calls for service.
“They distribute them to the kids they meet or see in bad situations,” Simpson said. “This helps them kind of get their mind off of it and think about something brighter, and happier, and more joyful than the cops being there. I just wanted to make them feel better.”
Since launching the project in her previous hometown just outside of Sarasota, Florida, Simpson has provided police with over 1,500 gift bags to hand out to children. Her friends and family helped her get the project off the ground after she shared her idea with them.
“That’s what started it and then with just that little kick start, it blew up,” she said. “When it got to the newspaper, people I have never met in my life– the first donation I got from someone random, and they were like, ‘Keep going Abby’.”
Simpson collaborated with multiple police department’s and sheriff’s offices in South Florida for over three years. Some of the gift bags also made it as far as North Carolina, where some family friends had heard about Simpson’s project.
After moving to Mt. Juliet this year, she hopes to keep that momentum going in Middle Tennessee. Last month, Simpson and her family reached out to the Mt. Juliet Police Department.
“They gave me a phone call and basically said, ‘Hey this is our program. Is this something you would like to partner with’,” said Capt. Tyler Chandler, spokesman for the MJPD. “Of course, we said yes, how could we not?”
Each bag contains items handpicked by Simpson herself. Often, they are filled with things like stickers, bracelets, small toys, crayons, notebooks and items containing encouraging messages. Her family then helps her pack the bags, at times making one to two groups of bags a month.
“My mom, my dad and my brother have all helped me,” Simpson said. “We have a big kitchen table, so it’s like a little assembly line that we do. We do 100 bags in probably an hour.”
Simpson delivered her first group of gift bags to the Mt. Juliet Police Department on Nov. 22. Each bag was placed in an officer’s patrol car, and Chandler said many had already been handed out to children police encountered on calls by mid-December.
“I can’t even count, nor do I know all of the situations that it happens, but our officers, when they come into contact with children on calls, they’re giving out the bags,” he said. “They’re just always happy and excited. No child ever says, ‘No I don’t want the bag’.”
Some common situations that call for a gift bag are a car crash, a domestic incident such as a fight at home or any other call for service where a child is involved.
“If you don’t have anything to distract the child with, they’re sitting there staring, watching the interaction, taking it in– it can be scary,” Chandler said. “But you can quickly make a child happy and distract them from a bad situation by giving a gift, and that’s what that is.”
While just knowing the children are excited to receive the gift bags keeps her going, Simpson had never seen any of the kids she was helping until last week when she set up a booth at the MJPD’s annual Christmas with a Cop event at Walmart.
Officers took 43 children in need around the store and let them pick out up to $250 worth of items. After passing through the checkout counter, they stopped at Simpson’s booth where she had gifts wrapped and packaged for each kid selected for the program.
The gifts ranged from bottles of lotion to footballs. As the children walked up to the table, Simpson reached out and handed them a bracelet and sticker. Each child that approached her booth had a wide smile and Simpson shared a high five with one young boy.
“Every single one I’ve given to them, they’ve smiled and that just makes me feel good because everybody needs a good smile and a little lift up in happiness,” Simpson said. “Everybody does. Even the grumpiest person ever.”
Chandler said the police department is grateful for Simpson’s efforts and plans to continue its partnership with Abby’s Love. Simpson and her family dropped off 48 more Christmas-themed bags for police to distribute last week and will continue to make bags as needed.
“We appreciate her heart, we want to be able to fulfill that, and it really does go to a unique situation where you have a 12-year-old making these bags out of her own time, her own funding, and then providing that to our police department,” Chandler said.
Simpson also has big plans for the future. She hopes to expand the program to other police departments and sheriff’s offices in Middle Tennessee in order to reach more kids. She also one day hopes to have Abby’s Love registered as a nonprofit.
“That keeps me going because I know that people always need help,” Simpson said. “It’s not just like ‘I’ll do a little bit, that’ll help some people, it’s fine.’ I want to keep going, I want to get to as many people as I can.”