What does a National Guard soldier who lost his contact lenses in a sandstorm in Kuwait have in common with a bankrupt mom from South Jersey who needs new tires on her car?
They both made wishes on the Internet. Both wishes came true. And in both cases, the genie was a 36-year-old Cherry Hill man.
Dave Girgenti started his Web site, Wish Upon a Hero, just two weeks ago. The premise is simple: Users post their wishes -- from the mundane (admission to the exclusive Pine Valley Golf Club) to the tragic (money for cancer treatments) -- and then wait to hear from potential heroes.
Already, four people have had their wishes filled.
"Everybody has their own individual charity on this site," said Girgenti, the creative director at Mount Laurel marketing firm Cramer Sweeney. "It's people helping people. It makes you want to give more, it makes you want to help more."
Staff Sgt. Rich DePalma of Swedesboro, one of the successful wishers, posted his wish on a whim.
"The next thing I know, not even a week later, I got contacted and someone said they want to grant my wish," DePalma said.
Now a recruiter with the Army National Guard in Vineland, DePalma lost his only pair of contacts after sand swept into his eyes when he first got to the Middle East at the beginning of the Iraq war. He borrowed another soldier's contacts for the remainder of his tour.
Since then, DePalma, 26, has wished he could get LASIK laser eye surgery, which costs thousands of dollars. On Tuesday, he will visit his wish granter, Dr. Anita Nevyas-Wallace in Mount Laurel, for his first consultation before the surgery.
"I just couldn't thank them enough," DePalma said. "I said stuff like this doesn't happen to me. I'm just a regular guy."
Wishers ask for new furniture, maternity clothes, a fixed car, college tuition or money for medical bills.
A girl from Moorestown posted a wish on behalf of her mom, hoping that she sells more houses as a Realtor so their bills can be paid, and a woman from Sicklerville wishes that her dad, her "hero," could find a job after he was laid off.
Meanwhile, a guy from Clarksboro wants a tummy tuck, a 32-year-old woman from Florence wants a husband, a history buff from Moorestown wants to visit a castle and a 53-year-old man from Pitman wants to fix his one yellow tooth so he can have a "brighter smiler."
Some wishes are simple, but powerful: A single mother of five in California wants "as many prayers as I can get" as she struggles to make ends meet. And a 23-year-old man whose dad abandoned him at birth wants to travel to Oregon to find him, just to know "what my father looks like."
A few wishes are more global: "I wish the world would switch to LED lighting," and "I wish we could be sure that all our votes are counted."
Since Girgenti has promoted his site only through friends and Web sites like YouTube, My-Space and Facebook, many users are still from New Jersey.
But the growth so far is rapid, he said. There are about 200 registered members.
Girgenti's idea was born out of the Sept. 11 attacks and the footage of victims' families posting fliers around New York City with pictures of those lost in the explosion.
"I thought, "There's got to be a faster way to help each other out,' " he said. "That was the initial concept, how do you help out people faster?"
It took Hurricane Katrina for the idea to crystalize. The 1989 Cherry Hill High School West graduate said he wondered how to help a lot of people at once, and was inspired when a woman from New Jersey donated her shore house to a family of Katrina victims.
"That was a neat concept," he said.
So he bought a Web site domain name for $24 and will spend just $20 a month to pay for Web hosting. "I look at it like $300 (a year) to save the world isn't bad," he said.
His friend handles the programming, and his wife monitors the wishes.
When the very first wish was granted -- a Hammonton woman filing for bankruptcy who needed new car tires -- "we went nuts."
"I was like, "This works!' " he said. "If it works once, it will work a thousand times. It will work a million times. The idea is solid."
Earlier this week the most viewed wish on the site belonged to Girgenti himself.
His wish? To go on Oprah, of course.