When Chloe Sexton lost her mother to brain cancer on April 12, she immediately stepped into a parenting role to her sister, Charlotte, then 7.
"We thought May would be the worst month," Sexton told TODAY Parents. "It's Brain Cancer Awareness Month, it was my mom's birthday, it was my baby's first birthday, and May has always been a special month in our family. We really thought that would be the worst."
But July brought another painful first — Charlotte's 8th birthday, her first without their mother, Jennifer.
Sexton, who told TODAY she has always been very invested in throwing birthday parties, wanted to plan something special for her little sister. Not only was it Charlotte's first birthday without her mom, it would be Charlotte's first-ever party.
"My mom was generally pretty sick and tired and had done radiation and chemo five and six times each," Sexton explained. "There just wasn’t a lot of room for her to party plan."
As Charlotte's party neared, Sexton was devastated that only one family had returned an RSVP.
"It's tough to be a kid with a birthday in the summer," Sexton said, adding that Charlotte transferred schools mid-year after their mom's passing. "It wasn’t that kids couldn't come, it's that they didn't say anything at all."
Through tears, Sexton, who owns cookie company, Bluff Cakes, shared the situation to her Tik Tok.
"My little sister turns 8 tomorrow," Sexton said in the emotional video posted to her brand's account. "Her birthday party is going to be this weekend. Our mom died of brain cancer 83 days ago (and ) one child from her class RSVP'd. I haven't even told her that."
Sexton told TODAY she did not anticipate what happened next.
"I was just sad. My Tik Tok has always been a place where I keep things very transparent," she explained. "It's a new age of social media to give your brand and your brand’s journey a personality and let people get this very transparent view of your struggles. They want to see what it’s taken to get to where you are and there’s no way to do that unless I show them what I'm up against to make this company go around."
Almost immediately, Sexton began receiving messages from people around the world asking how they could help.
"I had a family from Australia face-timing me asking what Charlotte liked and what they could send her," Sexton said.
Sexton told anyone who asked to simply send a card for Charlotte to read.
"My P.O. box has been packed to the brim every single day," Sexton shared. "I cannot get to it fast enough."
But the cards were just a preview for what would come to fruition on Charlotte's big day.
"On the day of the party, kids just kind of showed up. Parents I had talked to just kept filing into my house and I was like, 'Welcome!'," she said. "We had our garage and yard full of people. It was a packed house."
Sexton said she and her husband had just planned for the kids to play outside, but twenty minutes into the party, the first surprise showed up.
"Gracie the pony arrived with her owner Libby," Sexton said of the 22-year-old horse who made the trip from Oxford, Mississippi. "She had pom-poms in her hair and glitter, and she just popped right out of the back of a trailer. Gracie gave everyone rides and they could feed her treats."
The surprises didn't stop there. The Mid-South Jeep Group had privately orchestrated a drive by of more than thirty Jeeps in a Facebook group unbeknownst to the family.
"They were handing out cash and throwing rubber duckies into the yard and had decorated their cars and were blasting happy birthday songs," Sexton said. "They created this whole thing I never even saw from a Facebook group. She even got a personalized Jeep of her own."
Before the party ended, Charlotte had one last surprise: a visit from reptiles.
"They played with massive pythons and Charlotte let them wrap it around her neck," Sexton explained, adding it was handled by trained animal professionals. "Snakes, smaller lizards ... there must have been a dozen of them. All the kids learned about these animals and what they eat."
By the end of the party, Sexton said that Charlotte "could not stop talking about" her day and wanted to keep reliving all the magical moments. A viral recap video of Charlotte's party garnered more than 3 million views before it was removed from Tik Tok, and then reposted by Sexton.
While the party may have been for her little sister, Sexton said her internet community's response "changed her life."
"It saved something in me that I was giving up on which is that nobody really sees you on social media. They think they see you, they like your video, but do they ever really see you and care or is it just pretty sentiments?" she explained, adding that seeing action behind empathy felt very powerful.
Sexton continued, "It’s that extra bit of love, where they didn't have to, but they did because they could. Everyone needs a bit more of that."