The plight of Samantha Rodriguez, a 20-year-old raising her five younger siblings after their parents both died of cancer, has struck a chord among donors who’ve raised nearly $50,000 for the family in just five days.
In a story published on Wednesday, Rodriguez opened up to PEOPLE about the difficulties that have accompanied her decision to step into the role of mom and dad for her siblings Milagros, 16, Brenda, 14, Michael, 12, Bella, 9, and Destiny, 7.
The Orlando-based brood lost their mom, Lisa Smith, to cervical cancer in June 2013 and their father, Alexander Rodriguez, to lymphoma three years later.
“No one in our family could take us all in, [so] I decided that I had to do everything I possibly could to help these kids,” Rodriguez told PEOPLE. “There was no way that I was going to let us be split up.”
Since taking on the responsibility, Rodriguez has had to learn how to balance packing school lunches and scheduling doctor’s appointments with her job as a waitress at a local restaurant.
The family has been aided by their community — the local sheriff’s office helped with Christmas and anonymous donors bought Rodriguez a car in April — but Rodriguez says she’s working hard to save as much money as she can to send her siblings to college and buy a bigger house.
When PEOPLE first published the family’s story, a GoFundMe page dedicated to easing her financial burdens had raised $38,000 from church friends, neighbors and strangers. Now, that number is up to $86,296 and continues to grow.
Many of the donors mentioned on the page that they’d read about the family’s struggles and felt moved to give what they could.
“I read your story in PEOPLE magazine and I have to tell you what a REMARKABLE human being you are.. your siblings are so very blessed to have you and you are truly an inspiration to everyone,” one donor wrote.
Added another, “Samantha – I just read about you in PEOPLE magazine and had to come straight to the computer to send you a donation. You are an amazing young woman and all of your siblings are such precious kids. There will be tough days ahead, but if you all continue to rely on each other then you can all accomplish anything! Best of luck!”
Rodriguez told PEOPLE she’s been “blown away” by the amount of help her family has received in the three years since she and her siblings became orphans.
Though the kids’ grandmother Lourdes Navarro has legal guardianship, Rodriguez is in the process of taking that over from her, as Navarro’s help is limited by her arthritis.
“They deserve everything,” Rodriguez said. “I look at these kids, and I know it will be alright.”