CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – She’d come to depend upon the “toy chest,” a container for arts, crafts and toys meant to calm the fears of sick children during their visits to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Abby Frederick, 10, Cape May Court House, has neurofibromatosis, a syndrome that causes her to grow non-cancerous tumors that can affect her brain, optic pathway, spinal cord and nerves. She was diagnosed with the condition about eight years ago, and over the years has undergone procedures to control or remove the tumors.
In May 2015, Abby was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and doctors decided on a radical measure to shrink the tumor: Chemotherapy.
Abby was sick and frightened. Over the years of her illness, Abby had gotten used to the toy chest, where each time she visited the hospital, she could select a single toy.
Now she faced weekly visits to CHOP, and the young girl said she counted on the chest as a way to alleviate her fears.
One day, Abby found the chest empty.
“She really relied on the chest,” said her father, Tom. “She loved it.” It was the first place she’d look during the weekly visits to CHOP.
So did the other children who visited the hospital, Abby said. That chest meant a lot to the pediatric patients passing through the hospital’s doors.
“We have to do something about this,” Abby said, recalling her words that day to her parents.
“It was her idea,” said Abby’s mother, Melissa. “She wanted to fill that chest so other kids wouldn’t be upset.”
When she got home from the after last year’s May visit, Abby enlisted the help of her siblings, Emerson, 12, Ainsley, 7, and Calahan, 4, and announced that they would help her with a neighborhood craft and bake sale. Her grandparents had a garden full of tomatoes, and the children put together small crafts to sell.
“We made $65,” Emerson said.
“We went out and bought toys,” Abby said.
They managed to fill several bags, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy Abby. Other kids were sick, she said, and Abby didn’t want any of them to face the disappointment of finding an empty toy chest.
During the summer of 2015, Abby worked with family, friends and neighbors to get toys and crafts to donate to the chest, and each week she would drop off a new batch at CHOP.
By the fall of 2015, kids from the Wildwoods to Ocean City joined Abby in her toy drive. Tom, who’s a teacher at Ocean City High School, said the members of the National Honor Society organized a collection in Abby’s name. Melissa is a teacher at Glenwood Avenue Annex in Wildwood, and those children also worked to gather toys and crafts.
Abby, Emerson and Ainsley attend Cape Trinity Catholic, and they managed to get a box placed at that school for toy donations.
“She checks that box every week,” Melissa said. “And some of her friends gave their birthday gifts to Abby, so she could donate them to the toy chest.”
Word spread through a network of friends and family.
“Mom’s friends work with the whole community,” Abby said.
One of those friends is John Lynch, of the Lunch with Lynch Foundation. “We can’t thank him enough,” Melissa said. “He does all of the promotion for Abby.”
“He told us to call him Uncle John,” she said.
Since last year, Abby has made weekly donations of toys and crafts to the hospital, so that other children can find comfort. It means a lot to her, enough that the nurses and doctors have named the young girl as an ambassador for CHOP.
One of her duties as an ambassador is to take part in the “Parkway Run & Walk,” an annual fundraiser for the children’s hospital. In addition to taking part in the walk, Abby will join 16 other child ambassadors to give out awards at the Sept. 25 event on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.
“So far, Abby has raised about $4,000 (in the fundraiser) for pediatric cancer research and care at CHOP,” Melissa said.
Abby hopes to raise more, and has named her campaign “Abby’s Journey, Project Smiles.”
For more information about the walk, see chop.donordrive.com/team/Abby.
To help the child in drive to fill the toy chest each week, toys and crafts can be dropped off at Ocean City High School, in care of Tom Frederick; Glenwood Avenue Annex, in care of Melissa Frederick; or Cape Trinity Catholic School, in care of Abby Frederick.
CHOP requires that any toys or crafts be new. Fabric-based toys or stuffed animals cannot be accepted because they can trigger allergic reactions.