Mandi Simon, 13, saves the world one backpack at a time

Mandi Simon founded a charity when she was eight years old. She may have the biggest teenage heart in human history.

Mandi Simon founded a charity when she was eight years old. She may have the biggest teenage heart in human history.

Cool can't touch Mandi Simon. Think Maya Angelou meets Elizabeth Warren meets Angela Merkel and that's close to describing the Eagan teenager, who founded the charity Simon Says Give when she was eight years old.

Adoption united Mandi with the Simon family eight days after birth. Her mother, Dina, is an adopted kid too. From a young age, Mandi possessed an awareness far beyond her years.

Instead of gifts for her sixth birthday, she sought donations. According to Dina, her daughter was influenced by the public service blurbs she watched on TV like The Disney Channel's "Change for Change," which asked kids to donate spare coins to save the world.

"Mandi and I feel very blessed with the lives we've been given," Dina says. "Whether it's the roof over our head or meals on the table, we don't take things for granted. I think it's because of that Mandi not just thinks about other people and their needs, but says, 'What can I do about it?'" 

Sending money to some faceless, far off entity failed to appease Mandi, who her mom describes "as an old soul meets a big heart." In 2012 a little girl's compassion birthed Simon Says Give, a nonprofit of kids engaging the world through selfless action.

The group throws birthday parties for families who can use a little outside TLC. It stages the shindig and takes care of the gifts.

But the charity's marquee endeavor is its annual "High Five For Supplies." It's a campaign in which Mandi and a legion of volunteers purchase backpacks and school supplies, and get them onto the shoulders of children who need 'em.

This summer marks the drive's fourth anniversary. 

Last week, 500 volunteers flocked to St. Thomas Academy High School to assemble the back-to-school favors. Seven thousand backpacks were shipped out to 35 nonprofits that will get to them to the kids.

Simon Says Give is asking for some charity of its own right now. Mandi's goal this year is to outfit 10,000 Minnesota kids with backpacks. Each completed unit costs about $50, according to Dina, which means they're $150,000 short to reach the promised land by the September 15 deadline.

"People might not realize it," says Mandi, "but to the child who's never had their own backpack and the supplies they need for school, this is a big deal. You should see their faces. They'll get theirs and run around screaming. It's joy."