Sa’fyre Terry and Zachary Cunniff have a bond forged in loss. Now they will have a bond built in joy.
Zachary, the 7-year-old son of the late Trooper David Cunniff, broke the news to his best friend today that she’ll soon be going on a trip.
Zachary went on the trip with his brother Caleb and mother Amy earlier this year, thanks to the children’s foundation Baking Memories 4 Kids.
Now, his best friend Sa’fyre gets to go with her family, too.
“Sa’f,” Zachary told his friend in front of well-wishers and media today outside her Rotterdam home, “you’re going to Disney World!”
Baking Memories 4 Kids long planned today’s event. Sa’fyre’s aunt and caretaker Liz Dolder learned nine months ago that Sa’fyre, her cousins Jasmine and Jacob and the family would all spend a week early next year with Mickey, Minnie and Florida’s amusement parks.
“Oh, incredibly hard,” Dolder told reporters when asked about the difficulty of keeping it secret.
She even heard the kids pretending recently they were at Disney.
“And I can’t even tell them, oh, my God,” Dolder said. “They don’t know how close they are to the truth.”
The announcement served as an exclamation point on a whirlwind week for Sa’fyre and her family, a week that’s been filled with Christmas cards and well-wishes from around the world.
A week ago today, an online challenge to send cards exploded into a worldwide project of giving that’s still going.
Online donations have topped $325,000. Cards? Well, they’re getting in that range, too. The U.S. Postal Service conservatively estimated between 175,000 and 195,000 cards and letters today, along with upward of 3,500 parcels.
Those are on top of truckloads delivered previously.
But today wasn’t about the cards. It was about Mickey and a long-ago planned event that turned into the culmination of an amazing week.
Baking Memories 4 Kids sells chocolate chip cookies and takes donations through its website BakingMemories4Kids.com. It uses that money to fund trips to Florida amusement parks for children with life-threatening illnesses.
Founder Frank Squeo has announced 12 such trips for children this year. Sa’fyre’s is the 12th.
The trips are all-expenses-paid and last a week, including front-of-the-line passes at the parks.
“We do all of this by selling our cookies and taking donations,” Squeo said.
Local law enforcement, fire departments, biker clubs, friends and family joined Squeo at the event, all having different roles in Sa’fyre’s larger story.
The trip will be the first for Sa’fyre and her family. They’ve only been to a local amusement park for a day. This will be seven days where they won’t have to worry about anything but having fun.
“It will be a break from everything,” Sa’fyre’s uncle Michael Dolder said, “a nice vacation to where we don’t have to cook or clean — I don’t know if the vacation’s more for us or for them.”
The Cunniffs went on their own trip to Disney World earlier this year thanks to Baking Memories. Caleb has spinal muscular atrophy and uses a wheelchair.
The boys lost their father two years ago this week, when a tractor-trailer driver slammed into the back of his trooper car.
Sa’fyre lost her father David Terry and her three siblings, Layah, 3, Michael, 2, and Donavan Duell, 11 months all in an May 2, 2013 arson fire where Sa’fyre herself suffered severe and life-altering injuries. The arson remains unsolved.
Zachary and Sa’fyre’s friendship started in school. The two are in the same second-grade class at Schalmont’s Jefferson Elementary.
Amy Cunniff recalled the boys’ Baking Memories trip to Disney. Zachary, she said, couldn’t stop talking about Sa’fyre.
“Zach said the whole time, ‘Mommy, Sa’f would like this. Sa’f would like this,’ ” Amy Cunniff recalled.
Soon after they got back, Zachary suggested Sa’fyre get to go, too.
“Oh my goodness, he’s got a real tender heart and he just loves Sa’f,” Amy Cunniff said.
She recalled the two became fast friends when they realized their connection in loss.
“They put it together that both of their daddies died and that their daddies were named ‘David,’ ” Amy Cunniff said, “and after that, they were just best friends.”
Their friendship showed when Zachary approached with Squeo for the big announcement.
“Zachary!” Sa’fyre shouted as she ran and hugged him.
After Zachary told her where she and her family are going, the group posed for pictures. Sa’fyre called Zachary back over.
She also quickly turned her attention to her twin cousins. Today happened to be their 8th birthdays.
“Zachary,” she said, whispering to her friend, “don’t forget to say happy birthday to Jasmine and Jacob.”
As for her reaction to the trip she soon told her aunt it made her happy.
Baking Memories’ Squeo soon summed up the day to reporters.
“I’m so blessed that we are able to give this [to this] family and see how beautiful Sa’fyre is,” Squeo said. “This is the Christmas story.”