By Kyle Morel New Jersey Herald
HARDYSTON — With sirens blaring, Hardyston police cars and fire trucks made their way to the DaSilva family’s house in the Lake Stockholm section of the township Thursday morning.
The three DaSilva boys — Michael, 16, Anthony, 14, and Nicholas, 9 — were confused by the scene, having no idea that they were about to receive some very good news.
The trio was surprised with a trip to the Disney World resort in Orlando, Fla., by members of Baking Memories 4 Kids (BM4K), a non-profit organization that sends families of children with life-threatening and terminal illnesses on an all-expenses-paid vacation. The members were accompanied by officials with the Hardyston fire and police departments while announcing the news to the DaSilvas.
To pay for each family’s trip, volunteers with BM4K sell chocolate chip cookies across the country through its website, www.bakingmemories4kids.com, in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Frank Squeo, who founded the organization in 2012, said more than 40 families have been awarded trips this year.
Trish DaSilva, the boys’ mother, first contacted the organization in the summer of 2016 on behalf of Michael, who was born with a ventricular septal defect — in simpler terms, a hole in his heart. He had heart surgery at 3 months old but later suffered a mild aortic root dilation, which causes small amounts of blood to leak from his heart.
While Trish DaSilva said her son’s condition is “under control as of now,” Michael DaSilva still faces limitations in his daily life. He is not allowed to play contact sports, and even something as simple as lifting weights could result in a heart attack.
“He has to live with that every day, and it’s rough,” Trish DaSilva said.
Nicholas DiSilva had his own health scare when he was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, at age 5 in November 2013. Nicholas has been in remission since May 2014.
In October, more than a year after applying to BM4K, Trish DaSilva learned from the organization that her family qualified for the program and would be going on the trip. She then had to keep the news a secret from her sons for the next two months — a task that became difficult, she said, when the boys started asking her about the possibility of taking a vacation soon.
Trish DaSilva learned that members from the organization would arrive at the house late Thursday morning, and she had planned to come up with some excuse to keep the boys home from school. But in a stroke of luck, snowfall from Wednesday into Thursday meant that school would not be open anyway.
“It kind of worked to our advantage,” Trish DaSilva said. “School was closed; it was meant to be.”
Squeo, along with BM4K volunteers Jack Tarulli and Erik Tyler, drove about an hour from the organization’s headquarters in Valley Cottage, N.Y., to the Hardyston Township Municipal Building Thursday morning, arriving at about 10:45 a.m. After meeting members of the police and fire department, the group headed to the DaSilvas’ house together, presenting the boys with a container of cookies as well as a stuffed Mickey Mouse toy to signify their vacation.
“The boys had no idea,” Squeo said. “They were really surprised, very happy to go on the trip.”
“They were shocked,” Trish DaSilva added. “They’re excited, because now they’re like, ‘Oh my God! When do we go?'”
The answer to that the question, she said, is June. Once school lets out for the summer, Trish, her husband, Tony, and the three boys will fly to Orlando and enjoy the theme parks for a week.
Besides covering the family’s travel and lodging expenses, the trip includes access to all parks in the area as well as Front of Line passes, meaning they will not have to endure long waits before going on rides.
Squeo, who has awarded trips to dozens of families over the past five years, said he always enjoys seeing recipients’ reactions to the news, as many of them would otherwise not be able to afford such a trip.
“It’s an amazing feeling to give people a gift that they can never give themselves,” he said.
Trish DaSilva hopes to spread the word about BM4K so other families similarly affected by illnesses can reach out to the organization. She praised the kindness of Squeo and everyone else involved in giving her family the news of a lifetime.
“This organization, they are truly very passionate about what they do,” she said. “It’s amazing what they do for families.”