LIFESTYLE

Online fund to benefit 89-year-old Chicago street vendor nets $265K

Sometimes people look, but they don’t really see. 

Joel Cervantes Macias pulled his car over in the Little Village neighborhood in Chicago where he was born and raised when he caught sight of an elderly man, hunched over while pushing a cart.  

Cervantes Macias took the man’s picture, bought 20 paletas (traditional Mexican frozen ices) gave him a $50, said "God bless you" and drove away.

But he couldn’t stop thinking about the man. So he went home and posted the photo he took to his Facebook page.

The “paleta man” as he’s called, Fidencio Sánchez, is 89 years old. He told CNN that he was orphaned at 6 months and has worked to support himself since he was 13. He was born in the Mexican state of Morelos and moved to Chicago in 1990.

He followed his wife, Eladia, to the Windy City. "He came on a plane," Eladia told a Mexican reporter. "I walked."

The Sánchezes recently lost their only daughter, and, in addition to being emotionally bereft, the couple was also being supported financially with her help.

"When she died, I felt so much pain," he told CNN, fighting back tears. "I thought, 'What am I going to do now?'"

Sánchez had retired only months before his daughter’s death, but was forced to go back to work when Eladia become ill and unable to work.

"I don't like to ask for handouts," he explained.

Their daughter was the principal reason they came to the United States in the first place, so they could make enough money to send her to school.

Soon, Sánchez won't have to worry much about money, because after Cervantes Macias posted the photo, ideas about how to help him began pouring in. 

It was Joe Loera’s idea to launch a GoFundMe page. Cervantes Macias didn’t know Loera, but he suggested the crowd-funding site in a comment on Cervantes Macias’ Facebook post. 

When he first set up the account on Sept. 9, Cervantes Macias set a target of $3,000. In the four days that followed, with the help of literally thousands of strangers, the page has raised more than $265,000 as of noon on Tuesday.

“We're trying to raise money to help him with whatever we can. Anything helps. Let's all pitch in and help make life a little easier, and brighten both of their days,” Cervantes Macias wrote on the GoFundMe page.

"It broke my heart seeing this man [who] should be enjoying retirement still working at this age.”

Gilberto Bahena, Sánchez's pastor at his neighborhood church, calls the outpouring of financial support – from 12,000 people – a miracle.

"It's for sure an answer to their prayers," Bahena told CNN. "This man has really been faithful to the Lord. This man has a good heart."

Over the weekend, Cervantes Macias posted a video to his Facebook page explaining to the Sánchezes that he opened an account for them, so they didn't have to worry about doing it themselves, and that they will be able to directly access the money whenever they need. 

"This man, this woman," Cervantes Macias says in the video, "deserve everything they get."

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