OLD BRIDGE — Last year, AJ Silvestri accepted a challenge from Old Bridge Schools Superintendent David Cittadino to collect 125,000 letters for the Make-A-Wish Foundation through the Macy’s Believe campaign – and then raised more than 50,000 more.
AJ, a freshman at Old Bridge High School, collected some 175,987 letters. On Dec. 7, with the help of supporters from Old Bridge Township schools, other New Jersey communities, and countries outside the United States, he dropped off boxes spilling over with letters at 5 p.m. on National Believe Day at Macy’s in the Brunswick Square Mall in East Brunswick, according to information provided by the school district. For every letter delivered, Macy’s donates $2 to Make-A-Wish.
In 2017, AJ collected 78,257 letters, and in 2016, he collected more than 27,000, to help the organization that made his own dream become a reality. The youngster, who has cystic fibrosis, was granted a wish six years ago by Make-A-Wish. Cystic fibrosis is a chronic, progressive and life-limiting genetic disease that specifically affects AJ’s lungs and gastrointestinal system, according to his mother, Kerryann S. Silvestri.
This year marks the 11th annual Believe campaign between Macy’s and Make-A-Wish, according to Joseph DePalma, the vice president store manager of Brunswick Square Macy’s.
From the beginning of November through Christmas Eve, “believers” of all ages can mail letters to Santa at the big red letterbox at any Macy’s store or online at macys.com/believe. For every letter received, Macy’s will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million, to help create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses.
Letters delivered on National Believe Day to any Macy’s nationwide — the day AJ made his delivery — counted for a $2 contribution from Macy’s per letter, up to an additional $1 million, bringing the total campaign to a possible $2 million, according to the statement.
Cittadino said in 2017 he challenged AJ to collect 125,000 letters this year so that his efforts would help make “a classroom of kids’ ” wishes come true. The average wish costs about $10,000. AJ immediately agreed to answer the challenge.
AJ collected the bags and bags of letters this year with the help of 10,000 students, staff, and faculty members in the Old Bridge School District, who wrote notes and made holiday wishes. In addition, Silvestri went global this year.
“This is the first time AJ went international,” said Kenneth Londregan, vice principal at Carl Sandburg Middle School, who last year worked with AJ at his alma mater.
Londregan called AJ an “inspiration” to the school district, which also inspired his children to collect letters from their middle and elementary schools, according to the statement.
AJ garnered support from East Brunswick, Marlboro, Sayreville, Carteret, Staten Island and Toms River. He also collected letters from as far away as South Africa and the Kingdom of Bahrain in the Middle East, Londregan said.
The high school freshman was committed to beating his record last year and to giving back to the organization, who gave him and his family the opportunity to take a Make-A-Wish trip one week after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. On the trip, they met the cast of the History Channel show “Pawn Stars” and watched them film a segment with AJ’s favorite personality, Chum Lee. They also met the cast from the show “American Restoration.”
“It’s not what Make-A-Wish can do, but what you can do,” said Jerry Murphy, vice president of development at Make-A-Wish New Jersey. “AJ was able to mobilize groups of people while Macy’s makes the donation. He was able to come together with one project … one young man galvanized an area.”
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