It was just a glimpse, but the scene spoke volumes — and started a push for help. Joel Cervantes Macias was struck by the sight of an elderly man pushing his cart of frozen treats on Chicago's 26th Street, so he took a photo. That was last week; as of Monday afternoon, Macias had raised more than $165,000 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 89-year-old vendor, Fidencio Sanchez. "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 bent over to push his cart full of paletas, the traditional Mexican frozen treats. Many who commented wanted to know how they could help the man — and one of them, Joe Loera, suggested the Go Fund Me page.
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 the elderly man 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, the goal was set at $3,000. The total has since grown to the point that several comments on the site suggest that both the Sanchez family and Macias might need to consult attorneys. One person wrote: "You should really use some of the money to see a GOOD elder care lawyer and set up a trust because they might be on Medicaid and other programs and this amount of money can be a curse, plus they have to pay gift taxes."
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 of Chicago 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 intends to put on Facebook Live.
In the meantime, Sanchez still hasn't taken 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.