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Surprise gifts help keep spirits up for Make-A-Wish kids

Published: Sep. 14, 2020 at 2:44 PM EDT
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SWANTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Local businesses have stepped up to help kids waiting for their wishes. Our Scott Fleishman recently I had a chance to meet a pretty strong young man from Swanton, who was one of the recipients of a surprise package, packed with goodies to keep him in good spirits.

Jayden Quesneo, 6, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia or ALL three years ago.

“When you think of something like that, you think your child’s going to die,” mom Melinda Quesneo said.

Jayden is a Make-A-Wish kid-- his primary wish being a trip to Florida with his cousin.

“Well, we can’t do that right now and I can’t promise him when he can,” said Jamie Hathaway of Make-A-Wish Vermont.

Chemotherapy and other cancer treatments suppress immune systems, making travel near impossible during the pandemic. It’s a double whammy for kids like Jayden, who have already been through enough.

“So now they’ve had something that they’ve been looking forward to and now, that’s been taken away too and that’s not fair,” Hathaway said.

Not only have certain wishes been put on hold, but in-person fundraisers and family events aren’t taking place either.

“Our entire mission has been altered by the pandemic,” Hathaway said.

Every summer, the Vermont Lake Monsters host Make-A-Wish night. It’s an opportunity for families new to the program to have their questions answered by families who have been through the process. But with no season, there was no Make-A-Wish night.

“So we wanted to bring the ballgame to the kids,” Michael Callahan said.

Callahan is the senior applications engineer at Instrumart in South Burlington. The president of the company, Brian Leffler, is also a former board chair of Make-A-Wish Vermont.

“It’s a passion project of his and he’s inspired a lot of us here to grab a hold and make it our passion project, as well,” Callahan explained.

Callahan organized a surprise for the wish kids, putting together packages filled with gifts including T-shirts, tasty treats, hats, baseballs, bats and of course, masks. The items were donated by other businesses in the community and the boxes were delivered to the wish kids by volunteers.

“Finding volunteers was not hard, everybody jumped at the opportunity to help out,” Callahan said.

“We popped it open and he was so excited,” Melinda Quesneo said. “His favorite thing out of it was the stuffed animal of Champ.”

“What Instrumart has done-- not just Instrumart, but all the folks that helped these kids feel special-- is to remind these kids the community of support is still there and even though they’re not going on their wishes right now, something magical is afoot for them and something great is going to happen soon,” Hathaway said.

The Quesneo family is already experiencing something great. Jayden finished his last chemo treatment in early July and...

“So far, everything has been amazing,” his mom said.

Yes, travel options for Make-A-Wish kids are limited right now, but during these tough times, a touch of community encouragement goes a long way.

Jayden does have a second wish, which is a pontoon boat for fishing. Jayden is only 6, but he is already quite the fisherman. After he caught his first fish with his papa, Doug, he was hooked.

Some 70 surprise boxes went out, so 70 kids are waiting for wishes right now.

We mentioned the wish kids can’t travel because of the pandemic, well other wishes have been affected, too, things like playground equipment, campers and above-ground swimming pools are on backorder because of short supply or delivery shortages.

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