A 19-year-old college student wanted to give back for the holidays—but she was just a little more successful than she anticipated.
Danni Messina was inspired to donate money to charity during the holidays when she found out her good friend was spending Thanksgiving in the hospital with his grandmother. Since St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital is her sorority’s designated charity, Messina took to Twitter to rally a few of her friends to raise funds for the hospital. So on November 25, she posted a tweet to her then 600 followers saying she would donate 25 cents for every “favorite” and 50 cents for every retweet the post received.
“It hit me that it’s a reality for many people that they’ll have to spend their holidays in the hospital,” Messina, a communications major at Washington State University, tells PEOPLE. “I felt I had to do something to make their holidays a little bit better.”
Messina figured her campaign would help raise awareness for St. Jude and she’d maybe end up donating a few hundred dollars — tops. But within a day of posting her tweet, it exploded, receiving tens of thousands of retweets and favorites. Soon, the amount she “owed” soared far beyond the budget of the well-intentioned college student.
“I checked my Twitter feed and thought, ‘Oh my God, this has gotten out of control!’ ” Messina remembers. “I was kind of freaking out, to be honest! I’m a college student, and I really quite honestly don’t have this money. There was a little bit of panic at that point.”
In just about a week, the tweet has garnered more than 203,000 retweets and 472,000 favorites, and as of Friday, the campaign would have left her in the hole for more than $220,000.
With the pressure mounting, Messina didn’t want to come up too short on her campaign promise.
“I was in a little bit of shock,” she recalls of watching the tweet go viral, “so I figured I would just personally donate $1,000.”
She then launched a GoFundMe page on November 26 to recruit donations for the hospital, and so far, it has raised $60,800, well past its original $50,000 goal for the hospital.
Messina says she loves working with kids and has volunteered for related causes over the last five years. In that time, St. Jude has been a place she’s admired.
“St. Jude’s really does go above and beyond, not just in their medical research, but in the experience for the patients,” she says. “It’s the absolute perfect place for these donations.”
Messina says she was recently contacted by a national retailer to launch a “Danni Messina Day,” where the company will donate proceeds to her cause from their sales generated in stores.
“It’s so incredible. It’s something I never ever thought I would be going through, but it’s really cool to see a community formed because of this,” she says. “It’s strange to see one simple tweet that has become a team effort, and now we’re a community. We’re going to be in this together.”