Teen's Pigs Help Her Raise $30K for Hospital Where She Fought Cancer: 'It Was Pretty Awesome'

"The first person to bid was my orthodontist," Maddie Barber, who has been cancer-free since 2018, tells PEOPLE

maddie barber
Maddie Barber. Photo: Tally Barber

Giving back to the hospital where she was treated for brain cancer had been on Maddie Barber's mind for some time. Last month, the Texas teen thought of the perfect way to show her gratitude — and ended up raising over $30,000 in the process.

Maddie, who has a passion for raising pigs, came up with the idea to raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital the day before the Kendall County Junior Livestock Show took place on Jan. 8.

"I asked my dad, 'Oh, is it okay if I show for St. Jude and raise money?' " the 17-year-old junior, who has been cancer-free since 2018, tells PEOPLE.

Of course, he was thrilled about the idea — and he wasn't the only one.

maddie barber
Maddie Barber. Devin Sisk

"When Maddie told me the day before the sale that she wanted to do this, I was like, 'Oh, that's awesome,' " recallsTori Thornton, one of Maddie's agricultural science teachers and FAA (Future Farmers of America) advisers.

Instead of selling off the animals during the livestock show, the auction portion is looked at as more of an opportunity to raise "scholarship money for the kids to put towards future projects," Thornton explains. The children who show typically raise at least a "couple thousand dollars," which they mostly put towards their college education or to buy a car.

As for how unusual it is to raise over $30,000, Maddie simply says, "very."

"Right when the auctioneer read Maddie's statement, it got so quiet," her mom, Tally Barber, tells PEOPLE. Then "all the numbers went up."

"By the time they got to the end, everybody was screaming, hooting and hollering," Tally says. "It was incredibly emotional. I cried through the whole thing."

Adds Maddie, "It was pretty awesome."

Making the experience more meaningful was the fact that the crowd was largely made of local families and businesses — many of whom had known Maddie since she was a young girl, and had supported her throughout her cancer treatment.

"The first person to bid was my orthodontist," Maddie recalls.

maddie barber
Maddie Barber. Devin Sisk

Maddie was just 12 years old when she was diagnosed with brain cancer in the summer of 2017. Right away, the entire Boerne community rallied around her.

"Our town went into full gear," Tally tells PEOPLE. "There were ribbons on trees. There were ribbons on mailboxes. There were Maddie-Strong posters in people's yards."

The town also posted all of the photos on Facebook, so that Maddie could still enjoy them while she was in the hospital.

"It lifted her spirit," says Tally. "And it certainly lifted ours as well."

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After initially seeking treatment locally, Maddie's family made the decision to take her to St. Jude.

"They had a plan for her," says Tally. "You name it, they did it."

The proud mom says that even before Maddie's diagnosis, they had "always" donated to the hospital.

"That's our thing," Tally says. "And it was very humbling to be on the receiving side versus the giving side."

Being able to give back on such a large scale is something the family doesn't "have words for."

"We're overwhelmed and so happy," Tally says.

Maddie hopes the donation can help cover all of the extra costs families may run into while receiving care — including transportation, housing and food expenses.

maddie barber
Maddie Barber. Devin Sisk

The family has also been moved by the response to their story.

"People throughout the United States are saying, gosh, right now it feels like everything is so bad in the world, and then you get a good story and it restores your faith in your community, in your country," Tally says. "And I love that it's been a bright beacon — not just for Maddie, our community and St. Jude — but it's brought some hope and happiness to other people as well."

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