What began as an anticipated hours-long Twitter campaign to raise money for victims of last Tuesday’s earthquake in New Zealand turned into a two-day endeavor that galvanized the YA community—authors and readers—who made donations far beyond the expectations of organizer Maureen Johnson. The author, an avid tweeter, began a series of tweets on February 23, announcing a challenge to her 25,000-plus followers. Anyone who donated online to ShelterBox, a U.K.-based international relief charity that delivers emergency shelter to those affected by disasters, would be entered into a contest to win a signed ARC of her The Last Little Blue Envelope, which HarperTeen will publish in April. Her followers stepped up to the plate.
New York City resident Johnson learned of the New Zealand earthquake when she woke up last Wednesday morning. “There I was in my pajamas, wondering what I could do to help,” she said. “I have a friend who is a ShelterBox volunteer who gets deployed to different places when disasters strike, bringing kits containing basic life-sustaining materials, including tents, blankets, tools, and a stove. I’d been meaning forever to donate money to the organization. I had exactly one ARC of my book left, and I had a little idea.”
That little idea grew. Within an hour of posting the contest, one of her Twitter followers volunteered to create a spread sheet tracking the ShelterBox donations that individuals were reporting, via Twitter or e-mail. “A lot of kids were making donations,” says Johnson. “They would tweet that they only had a few dollars to donate and asked me, ‘Is that pathetic?’ And I answered, ‘No, not at all!’ A dollar is a dollar.”
The effort gained momentum as Johnson’s fellow YA authors chimed in, donating additional prizes and money. Libba Bray donated an ARC of Beauty Queens and, with her husband, agent Barry Goldblatt, donated enough money for an entire shelter kit. Ellen Hopkins also donated funds for a whole kit. When Johnson’s agent, Kate Schafer Testerman of kt literary, offered to donate another ARC of The Last Little Blue Envelope, Johnson decided to keep the initiative underway for a second day—and donated money to complete the funding for a sixth shelter kit on Wednesday evening.
Soon other authors jumped into the ring. Among the works contributed—many of which were signed—were a copy of Tiger Eyes from Judy Blume, an ARC of Goliath from Scott Westerfeld, a copy of Across the Universe by Beth Revis, a copy and poster of Beautiful Darkness from Kami Garcia and Margi Stohl, an ARC of Pink Boots and a Macheteby Mireya Mayor, a copy of Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, an ARC of Huntress by Malinda Lo, and an ARC of Red Glove by Holly Black.
As the clock ticked down on the second day, Johnson continued to encourage her Twitter followers to donate. “By the end, I began to feel a bit like Jerry Lewis running a telethon,” she said. “I told people to go into the street and shake someone down until money came out. I told kids, ‘Go and bug relatives for money, but don’t take your parents’ credit cards—but if you do, it’s not the worst thing you could do! And kids did go and hit up their parents.”
By the end of Thursday, some 200 donors had contributed $15,300, enough money to purchase 16 shelter boxes (a donation from Ally Carter finished off a partially funded shelter kit, and Testerman donated money to complete yet another one, supplementing funds that arrived after Thursday’s deadline).
Though gratified by the overwhelming response, Johnson noted that she wasn’t entirely surprised. “I feel like this kind of thing happens often in YA,” she observed. “Authors tend to help out, since of lot of us know each other. And I feel that things can happen spontaneously online, which is the best. I was thrilled to see how this all worked out.”
Those interested in contributing to the ShelterBox disaster relief efforts can donate on the ShelterBox Web site.