Strangers Raise $150,000 In 3 Days To Help Chicago Popsicle Vendor, 89 | WBEZ
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Strangers Raise $150,000 In 3 Days To Help Chicago Popsicle Vendor, 89

It was just a glimpse, but the scene spoke volumes; it also started a push for help. Joel Cervantes Macias was struck by the sight of an elderly man pushing his popsicle cart on Chicago's 26th Street, so he took a photo. That was last week; as of Monday, Macias has raised $150,000 to help a stranger.

"It broke my heart seeing this man that should be enjoying retirement still working at this age," Macias wrote on a Go Fund Me page he set up for the vendor, Fedencio Sanchez, 89. "I had to pull over and took this picture. I then bought 20 paletas and gave him a $50 and said may God bless him and drove away."

After posting a picture of Sanchez on Facebook, Macias quickly learned that others had the same response to seeing the man bending over to push his cart holding paletas, the traditional Mexican frozen treats. Many who commented wanted to know how they could help the man — and one, Joe Loera, suggested a Go Fund Me page.

That page has now raised thousands. Several donations total more than $1,000, but most of them are much smaller. In all, more than 7,000 people have chipped in. And when Sanchez began his day Monday morning, he did so with a half-dozen news crews around him, including one from Telemundo.

The fundraising campaign also helped Sanchez's story emerge. On the campaign page, a woman wrote to say he has long been a regular at her church and that his daughter died last month. Chicago's WLS TV 7 reports that Sanchez and his wife recently decided to go back to work so they could care for their two grandsons.

"We thought, 'What are we going to do? We have to pay the bills,' " WLS quotes Sanchez saying.

Many of those bills can now be paid thanks to the fundraising campaign that began with the idea of raising enough to give Sanchez a day off. When the Go Fund Me page was launched, its goal was set at $3,000. It has far surpassed that now, to the point that several comments on the site suggest that both the Sanchez family and Macias need to consult attorneys. Taxes are a particular concern; so is the possibility that the money meant to help the couple take care of their grandchildren could also affect the Sanchezes' ability to receive medical services.

All of this, because strangers were brought together. And by strangers, we mean everyone in this story. Macias, who was born and raised in the Little Village area where he spotted the paletero, now lives in Wisconsin; before he posted his photo of Sanchez, he and Loera had never met.

"None of us know each other, but we all came together to help someone we all felt needed it," Loera wrote in an update on the fundraising campaign page. "This is a true example of people showing love for one another and how we can together accomplish something beautiful and greater than ourselves."

In another update on the campaign, Macias says they are leaving the page up for a week, "because people still seem to be donating."

Macias plans to give the campaign's proceeds to Sanchez later this week, in an exchange that he plans to put on Facebook Live.

In the meantime, Sanchez is still not taking that day off. As La Villita reported over the weekend, he was at Sunday's Mexican Independence Day Parade, along with his cart of paletas.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

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