A.J. Silvestri and Jillian Bresocnik did it again. This year the duo garnered 136,512 letters to Santa for the annual letter campaign for Make-A-Wish New Jersey through Macy’s Believe campaign.
Old Bridge Township Public Schools Superintendent of Schools David Cittadino announced the grand number, which was met with applause from those who attended to watch A.J. and Jillian drop off the letters at Macy’s in the Brunswick Square Mall, East Brunswick, on Dec. 3.
“This is an event that grows every year,” he said. “And now with A.J. and Jillian championing the cause, it’s something that has made our community proud. I know it’s something that has been very beneficial to so many families.”
Cittadino said it is an event people of all ages participate in, from “our youngest children to our teachers, adults and our parents.”
“It warms my heart every year,” the superintendent said. “I remember when A.J. first started this when he was about as high as the sleigh. It’s a great tribute to Kendall … I know she is in all our hearts and we will keep on doing this and having this great turnout.”
Michael Dominick, the director of communications for Make-A-Wish New Jersey, thanked A.J. and Jillian for their efforts to inspire the community.
“There are events like this going on throughout the country,” he said, adding that the simplicity of writing a letter to Santa, which turns into a $1 donation for Make-A-Wish, is powerful. “You guys prove that every year with the amount of letters you show up with.”
A.J. and Jillian arrived at Macy’s in style with help from the South Old Bridge Fire Department and the Old Bridge Police Department, as family members and friends cheered. They were welcomed by Alex Turovdky, Macy’s store manager.
A.J., who is a senior at Old Bridge High School, pushed the sleigh carrying the letters as Jillian, who is a sixth-grader at the Jonas Salk Middle School, carried a box of letters to the Macy’s Believe mailbox.
Jillian teamed up with A.J. in 2020 in memory of her 7-year-old sister, Kendall, who was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer early in 2020. She was a student at the Southwood Elementary School.
During Kendall’s brief but fierce battle with the disease, she was granted a wish from Make-A-Wish New Jersey to build a swimming pool in her parents’ backyard. Kendall passed away in May 2020.
When Kendall was granted her wish, she asked her mother if she was going to be able to ride in the sleigh with A.J. during his annual delivery of the holiday letters.
Kendall, symbolically, rides in the sleigh in spirit. Her photo was placed on the sleigh for the ride into Macy’s.
Throughout the years and prior to Kendall’s diagnosis, Jillian and Kendall were among A.J.’s biggest supporters. The Bresocnik family, which also include parents Erik and Kerri-Ann, wrote and collected more than 15,000 letters over the past several years.
Kerri-Ann Bresocnik thanked family members and friends for paying tribute to Kendall in such a beautiful way.
“Kindness is contagious and everyone who knew Kendall knew what a kind, caring heart she had,” she said. “The response to the letter writing campaign we have gotten from everyone is a true testament to the legacy she left behind.”
The family has called their holiday letter writing effort “Believe in Unicorns” for Kendall’s love of rainbows and unicorns.
Since 2014, A.J., with the help of his supporters from the Old Bridge schools, other communities around the state and other nations, has collected more than 500,000 letters. A.J. has collected letters from as far away as Alaska, Hawaii and New Zealand.
Each year he, along with family members and friends, drops off boxes spilling over with letters during National Believe Week, at Macy’s in the Brunswick Square Mall.
This year marks the 14th 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 that were delivered during National Believe Week to any Macy’s nationwide 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.
Make-A-Wish New Jersey granted A.J. a wish when he was 8 years old. He has cystic fibrosis, a chronic, progressive and life limiting genetic disease that affects A.J.’s lungs and gastrointestinal system, A.J.’s mother Kerryann S. Silvestri said.
A.J.’s wish involved traveling to Las Vegas to meet the cast of “Pawn Stars.” A.J. also got to meet the cast of “American Restoration,” which was also on the History Channel. The trip was made a week after superstorm Sandy in 2012.
With support from the Macy’s Believe campaign, Make-A-Wish provides children who have 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 $137 million to Make-A-Wish, including more than $25 million through the retailer’s annual Believe campaign, helping grant more than 16,200 wishes and impacting more than 3.2 million people, including wish kids and their families, volunteers, community groups and medical professionals.
To participate, visit http://nj.wish.org/BelieveBresocnikSilvestri