There’s a big red letter box at the Macy’s in the South Shore Mall in Bay Shore that promises express delivery to the North Pole.
The campaign began in 2003 with a simple concept: Every letter to Santa that’s collected in Macy’s big red mailboxes — or online — from early November through Christmas Eve each year equates to a $1 donation to Make-A-Wish.
Macy’s has committed to donating up to $1 million annually for the campaign.
Bay Shore High School alumna Bridget Finnerty attached herself to the cause four years ago when she began campaigning for letters to honor a little girl named Hailey Olson.
Olson lost her battle with brain cancer in 2013. She was just 8 years old.
“Make-A-Wish and childhood cancer research are so important and don’t receive enough attention,” said Finnerty, who runs a grassroots social media campaign that invites friends near and far to write letters to Santa for the Believe Campaign.
Finnerty collects the letters throughout the season and brings them to Macy’s each December.
“The thing that amazes me is our community,” she said.” So many people step up…”
And step up they did this Friday night.
Scores of community members gathered to celebrate in Bay Shore for “Believe Day,” the one day each year that Macy’s doubles its donations to Make-A-Wish, up to an additional $1 million.
Celebrations are held at Macy’s stores nationwide, with many of them honoring a child in the community by granting a wish. Locally, the support in 2016 was for Bay Shore High School senior Melina Mazzie, whose friends and family were among those gathered outside the velvet-rope perimeter in the mall, many holding signs that read “Smiles for Melina” and “We Believe.”
Melina has struggled against myelodsplastic syndrome, which consists of a group of disorders that disrupt the production of blood cells in bone marrow.
She received a life-saving bone marrow transplant from her brother, former Bay Shore High School quarterback Ryan Mazzie, in 2010.
But 2016 honoree Melina Mazzie didn’t attend the event solely to collect her wish, which was a vacation to the Bahamas.
She had a surprise of her own, announcing to the crowd that she and fellow students at Bay Shore High School set out to collect letters for the campaign.
“We actually exceeded my expectations completely,” said Mazzie. “We brought you over 13,000 letters.”
The letters then got carried upfront in gift-wrapped boxes by her friends.
Nobody knows more about the importance of this campaign than 20 year-old Eileen McNulty from Lindenhurst, who is one of a handful of Wish Kids who attended the event to show their support for Melina.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation sent McNulty to Disney World when she was 5.
“Looking back on it… it was a really big thing for me,” McNulty said. “I’m here to support the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and I [brought] 300 letters that I collected.”
Logan Barsch received his wish in 2006, which was to sail on the Royal Caribbean Nickelodeon Family Cruise with his family. He arrived with 2,000 letters of his own.
For anyone who’s doing the math, that’s over $31,000 raised by three children who directly benefited from the cause.
Karine Hollander, President and CEO of the Suffolk County chapter of Make-A-Wish, thanked all in attendance for recognizing the importance of giving children the opportunity to have a wish granted, especially since many face extreme hardship as they fight illness.
“What a wish does for a child is to help them… melt away some of that anxiety and some of that dread,” said Hollander.
“It’s what gets them through some of the darkest days.”
There’s still time to send your letters to Santa, either in store or online at Macys.com. $1 donations will be made through December 24th.
Top: Melina Mazzie’s friends deliver 13,000 Santa letters Friday. (Mary Donnelly)