Addyson O'Donnel

Addyson O'Donnell, 2, was born with spina bifida. (Janice O'Donnell, Family photo / December 20, 2013)

Janice O'Donnell watched the number on her screen climb and climb and climb. And when she couldn't watch any more, there were text messages from friends asking if she was watching.

By the end of the day, close to $50,000 had poured in through the Chive Charities campaign set up to benefit her 2-year-old-daughter, Addyson, who was born with spina bifida.

"I basically spent the entire day crying," O'Donnell said.

She had expected maybe a couple thousand dollars, at the most. But fundraising campaigns run by Chive Charities have a way of exceeding expectations.

The organization is an offshoot of a photo-based entertainment and humor website that has developed a cult following and an almost unexplainable tradition of generosity among its supporters, who are known as Chivers.

Even before the charity branch formed in 2012, Chivers throughout the nation were known, if only among themselves, for practicing random acts of kindness.

"It kind of became like a tradition that if you saw somebody out in public with the shirt from, … [you] would do something nice for that person — buy them a beer, people leave money on the cars that have [Chive] stickers on them, stuff like that," said Zack Rexine, the founder of the Maryland chapter of thechive.

That attitude of giving has carried over to Chive Charities, which raises money for specific individuals in need rather than whole organizations, sharing their stories online along with a link to donate in flash-campaign form.

Recently, local chapters like Rexine's have started forming around the country, transforming the online community into social groups that host "meet-ups," or parties, that raise money for charity. They donate proceeds from cover charges and auctioned items.

Rexine, 27, started the Maryland chapter in March, and the group, which has more than 5,300 followers on Facebook, has raised close to $60,000 through roughly six events, he said.

It is a unique, and so far successful, take on charity, fueled primarily by a millennial generation often pegged as self-absorbed party animals. The local chapters of Chive Charities play to the latter notion, while standing as a total contradiction to the former.

Rexine, who is from Baltimore but now lives Columbia, thought it was an excellent idea.

"You're having all this fun, but you're raising so much money for a good cause," he said. "I thought, 'This is perfect. We can do so much for the community while also developing new friends and [meeting] people that have become like my family.'"

That's how Rexine met Melissa Smith, the Annapolis woman whom he called the focus of thechive's most successful campaign to date and who introduced him to the O'Donnell family.

Smith, 29, was first diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma at 22, and two years after going into remission, she relapsed, according to story. After beating the disease a second time, Smith received another devastating diagnosis. She had transverse myelitis, a rare neurological disorder that affects the spinal cord. She would soon be paralyzed from the waist down and told by doctors that she would never walk again.

Thechive picked up Smith's story and it went viral. The campaign pulled in more than $400,000 for Smith, passing the initial goal of $50,000 within the first 30 minutes, according to a post from the site's founder.

As of earlier this month, the donations were still flowing in.

"The Chivers kind of developed a reputation for, when they see a goal, their mind set is, 'Well we can shatter it,'" Rexine said.

The Maryland chapter hosted an event that raised about $11,000 for Smith, and when it was over, Rexine and other members of the group decided to let her choose the beneficiary of the chapter's next campaign.

Without hesitation, Smith suggested Addyson.