‘Month of Giving’ campaign helps grant children with life-changing wishes

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MONROE — Grabbing lunch at Jersey Mike’s Subs will aid in granting life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses.

Through March 28, customers can make a donation to Make-A-Wish New Jersey at any of the 60 Jersey Mike’s participating locations in north, central and coastal New Jersey during its eighth annual Jersey Mike’s Subs “Month of Giving” campaign.

The campaign will culminate on March 28 with the “Day of Giving,” when the local restaurants will donate 100 percent of that day’s sales to more than 170 different charities including Make-A-Wish.

This year is the second year Jersey Mike’s Subs is partnering with Make-a-Wish New Jersey. Last year, locations in Atlantic Highlands, Matawan, Holmdel and Morganville donated $263,000, resulting in more than 25 wishes granted to local children with critical illnesses.

Two of those wishes granted included trips to Florida for two young children — Jackson Sharkey, 5, and David Pagan, 4, both of Old Bridge.

Jackson was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer affecting the bone marrow, when he was three-and-a-half years old.

“Jackson has had an extremely rough time through this journey,” Jackson’s mom Jill Sharkey explained. “During his time in the hospital, he would refuse to take medication and it got so bad where he would freak out when a nurse would come into the room.”

Sharkey said her mother found out about Make-a-Wish through a neighbor, and called in to find out more information.

“I had heard about the foundation; however, I thought it was for children who were dying, not for those going through treatment,” she said.

Lauren Pagan’s son David was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, an eye cancer that begins in the retina, when he was two years old.

“We went to CHOP [Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia] and Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, where he received chemo shots in the eye,” she said. “They had tried to save his eye, but it had to be removed and he now has a prosthetic eye. There are very few treatment centers [for retinoblastoma]. We were lucky that it was right here in Philly.”

Pagan said she had heard about the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but didn’t know anything about it. She said David’s doctors referred him for the program.

Through Make-A-Wish New Jersey, Jackson and David were able to put doctor visits and hospital stays behind them and simply enjoy being kids in April 2017 during a week-long vacation to Walt Disney World. The children and their families stayed at Give Kids the World Village, where the Make-A-Wish Foundation has their wish children stay during Florida theme park wishes.

“It’s a wonderful charity partner of ours,” said Michael Dominick, director of communications for Make-A-Wish New Jersey. “They provide week-long, cost-free vacations to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.”

Sharkey and Pagan said the Make-A-Wish experience for their sons was amazing.

“Jackson had a great time and he still talks about it,” Sharkey said, adding that hopefully by October, Jackson will have his final chemotherapy treatment. “It was nice for him to enjoy something nice after such a horrific process. I can’t thank the foundation enough.”

Pagan agreed. She said the trip was a way for David and the family to forget everything.

“Last year was the worst year of our entire lives,” she said, adding David is all clear of the cancer. “We still need to go for regular checkups. It was nice to get away from the constant doctor visits. … [The people at Disney] treated David like he was the king of the world, he and his brother Oliver.”

Make-A-Wish New Jersey is celebrating its 35th anniversary. The foundation has granted more than 9,500 wishes since its inception in 1983 — a record 530 wishes were granted last year. The foundation’s goal is to grant 500 wishes this year.

The Jersey Mike’s Subs “Month of Giving” campaign began on March 1. To kick off the campaign, Make-A-Wish New Jersey lit up its home base at the Samuel and Josephine Plumeri Wishing Place at 1347 Perrineville Road in Monroe in red and blue, the official colors of Jersey Mike’s Subs.

Dominick said David and Jackson are helping Make-A-Wish New Jersey as ambassadors for the campaign.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.