Old Bridge High sophomore brings community together through Macy’s Believe campaign

AJ Silvestri, a sophomore at Old Bridge High School, with the support of the community, dropped off a record number of letters for the Macy's Believe Campaign in partnership with Make-A-Wish New Jersey at Brunswick Square Mall in East Brunswick on Dec. 6.

Macy’s Believe O’ Meter is steaming off its dial as AJ Silvestri’s annual collection of letters for the Macy’s Believe campaign has reached its largest collection yet from far and wide – Alaska, Hawaii and even New Zealand this year.

AJ, a sophomore at Old Bridge High School, surpassed his letter collecting campaign numbers, collecting some 211,729 letters, which will grant 42 wishes for the Make-A-Wish Foundation New Jersey. Last year, he collected 175,987 letters.

With the help of the South Old Bridge Fire Department, the Old Bridge Police Department, family and friends, AJ dropped off boxes spilling over with letters around 5 p.m. on National Believe Day at Macy’s at the Brunswick Square Mall in East Brunswick on Dec. 6.

Joe DePalma, vice president store manager of Brunswick Square Macy’s, said the store’s market place in New Jersey is the fourth largest letter drop for the Believe campaign along the East Coast.

“This is my second [campaign] with AJ,” he said. “I’m so glad to be part of process and part of the community. I know he doesn’t want to be thanked, but he is an inspiration to a lot of people, me for one.”

This year marks the 12th annual Believe campaign between Macy’s and Make-A-Wish. 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.

Old Bridge Schools Superintendent David Cittadino, who did the honors of telling the crowd how many letters were collected, said it was his sixth year supporting AJ’s efforts.

“Each year has been getting more grand,” he said, adding AJ’s efforts are a true inspiration. “This group is like a microcosm of how one child’s wish that comes true affects a community.”

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.

Silvestri said AJ, who is a member of the Old Bridge Marching Band on percussion and has made the honor roll, has taken their motto at home of “service to others, service to self” to heart since he started the letter campaign in the third grade. She said the showing of the community through the letter campaign – one family collected 8,000 letters – is a testament of the district and the township.

Michael Dominick, director of communications for Make-A-Wish New Jersey, said AJ’s efforts are inspiring.

“The partnership with Macy’s is an incredible one and it has been around for a long time,” he said “It has helped raise $120 million over the years … I can’t begin to tell you how many wishes that has transpired to.”

Dominick said AJ’s letter collection is more than a number, it is the impact it has on the community.

“You have inspired people to get involved,” he said to AJ during the drop off. “To support an organization near and dear to you and near and dear to us, it’s changing kids’ lives and even beyond … in my heart I know people here in New Jersey and across the country … the impact has ripple affects beyond what we can see or touch.”

Old Bridge Mayor Owen Henry called AJ an inspiration and said he has made Old Bridge proud with his efforts every year.

With support from the Macy’s Believe campaign, Make-A-Wish provides children with critical illnesses the chance to experience life beyond their illness and see their most heartfelt wish come true, allowing them to replace fear with confidence, anxiety with hope and sadness with joy. Since 2003, Macy’s has donated more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish, including more than $19 million through the annual Believe campaign.

For more information regarding Make-A-Wish, contact Michael Dominick, director of Communications, at mdominick@nj.wish.org or call 215-272-5032.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.

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