Washington State University student Danni Messina probably didn’t expect to be hundreds of thousands of dollars in “debt” a few days after pledging to donate to a children’s hospital.
But that’s exactly what happened when a tweet she posted Saturday promising to donate money to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital went viral. The message was innocuous enough: “This time of year is about giving – this year, I am giving back to St. Jude & the families who are supported by their amazing services,” she tweeted.
For this, she vowed to donate 25 cents for every “retweet,” and 50 cents for every “favorite,” asking others to do the same.
By Wednesday, the tweet had over 200,000 retweets and about 466,000 favorites. In monetary terms, that’s about $216,500 she didn’t have.
“I just want to make a difference,” the 19-year-old tweeted in all caps Sunday afternoon.
Within a few hours of posting, her pledge started picking up steam. Within a day of her pledge she’d inadvertently promised to donate $100,000, and the amount kept climbing. And climbing. And climbing. She tweeted to Ellen Degeneres and her TV show, the “Ellen Show” for help. She tweeted to Jimmy Fallon: “LOVE your show, huge fan.”
At 5 p.m. Sunday she unofficially ended her pledge, but still encouraged people to donate: “Ha wowza OK – so we are stopping it here,” she tweeted, after it’d been shared tens of thousands of times.
But still wanting to make good on her promise, the student from Renton created a GoFundMe campaign where she asked people to “change some lives” by helping her raise $50,000.
“It started with a friend,” she wrote. “He was telling me about his Thanksgiving, and how he was spending time with his grandma who was in the hospital. It made me start thinking about the children who were spending their holidays in the hospital, and how it really was a reality for others. Then I tweeted about it.”
“So, unfortunately, I don’t have the funds to support this, but here is a link to donate to one of the best hospitals there is,” she wrote. “St. Jude is changing lives. This is where we start.”
The campaign plowed through it’s goal of $50,000 in two days.
By Monday, word had spread, and she was featured in dozens of news stories, including CBS News and BuzzFeed.
By Wednesday morning, St. Jude responded in kind with a post to its website thanking Messina for the gift.
“Long-standing St. Jude partners like Kmart have also gotten involved to back Danni’s efforts,” the hospital wrote. “Through the generosity of Danni, millions of other supporters, and partners like Kmart, no family ever receives a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food – because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.”
In an interview with BuzzFeed News on Monday, Messina said she didn’t expect the tweet to go viral and originally planned on donating $1,000 of her own money. She told a reporter that once she noticed the tweet was garnering tens of thousands of impressions, she began to panic.
“People were messaging me, and other people were saying, ‘Oh my god, she’s going to go broke,’ ” she told Buzzfeed.
And while some called the woman out for what they deemed to be an empty promise for 15 minutes of internet fame, others praised her for raising money for a good cause.
“As a patient at St. Jude, I want to say thank you,” one woman tweeted to Messina. “Without the generosity of people donating, so many of us would not be here today. I owe my life to St. Jude.”
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