Courtesy Aaron Collins Organization
08/21/2012 at 01:00 PM EDT
Aaron Collins of Kentucky was only 30, but he had a last wish that involved being generous.
"He always wanted to make people happy," said his sister Rachel on Tuesday's Today show
. This included repaying his parents for anything he might have owed them, donating to a homeless person, and leaving "an awesome tip" for a waiter or waitress.
"I don't mean 25 percent," Collins wrote in his will, according to his brother Seth, that outlined what he expected his family to do. "I mean $500 on a pizza."
Aaron passed away unexpectedly on July 7 – his death is still being investigated – and his family didn't have the $500 to grant his final request. So they set up a website
in Aaron's name, and the donations came in. At last count they amounted to $57,000.
"We are doing better than expected because it gives us something to focus on instead of our grief," Aaron's mother Tina Gerney said on Today
Added Seth: "It’s been a huge blessing for me just to be able to touch people like that and see their reaction. I'm really nervous going into it, and then as soon as I hand them that money I just get to step back and just let them control the situation and see how they're going to react. It's different every time."
Videotaped reactions of people receiving the tips have gone viral, and have accounted for even more donations.
Among the recipients was waitress Jamie Fuller, who, like most others, said she was "shocked." "I thought it was a joke at first," she said, "and it's very emotional."
In return, she donated $50 herself to the Aaron's Wish fund.
Some people are simply inspired by the Aaron Movement and digging into their own wallets to make someone happy. Witness the passenger in San Francisco, who gave his cab driver a $500 tip – and told the cabbie, "This is in memory of Aaron."