Donations For Elderly Little Village Paleta Vendor Top $354,000

By Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Thousands of people from around the world have come together to raise money via a “GoFundMe” campaign for an 89 year old street vendor. The online campaign was launched by a stranger who bought paletas from the elderly man who was struggling to push his cart down the street.


Donations for an 89-year-old paleta vendor in Little Village have skyrocketed to more than $354,000 in five days, making it the largest GoFundMe campaign ever in Illinois.

More than 15,000 people from all over the world reached into their wallets to give money, ranging from $5 to $2,000 donations, to help Fidencio Sanchez, who has been selling the Mexican ice pops from a pushcart in the neighborhood for 23 years.

The online fundraising campaign was created Friday by Joel Cervantes, a stranger who bought paletas from Sanchez last week and photographed him apparently struggling to push the cart.

The goal was to raise $3,000, but donations quickly surpassed that mark, thanks to contributions from more than 60 countries. The tally not only makes the campaign the largest moneymaker in Illinois but also puts it among the top 25 campaigns in the U.S., said Bobby Whithorne, a spokesman for GoFundMe.

“When I first saw the picture it brought tears to my eyes,” Olivia Baez, who learned about the GoFundMe campaign on Facebook, said in an email. “This was someone who had no other resort but to be working at 89 years old. He wasn’t asking anyone for a handout but working to take care of his family.”

“I’ve heard the term ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ but the picture of Mr. Sanchez is worth so much more. He is from Little Village, I am from Little Village and this is who we are,” said Baez, who made a donation.

GoFundMe is working with Cervantes and Sanchez to set up a process in which the donations get distributed directly to Sanchez, either by depositing the funds into a bank account or transferring the money to a trust established for Sanchez, Whithorne said.

It’s not uncommon to set up a trust when a large amount has been raised, though funds are typically deposited directly into a bank account, he said. Donations won’t get released until a bank account or trust is established, he said.

The online fundraising site will disburse the entire sum, minus processing and service fees,in full. If the campaign continues after that and additional funds are raised, the beneficiary can decide how often future money is released.

Whithorne said, “GoFundMe is working with everyone involved to ensure the donors’ intentions are honored and Fidencio receives the money raised on his behalf.”

GoFundMe automatically takes 5 percent from each donation as a service fee, and WePay, which processes the transactions, deducts 2.9 percent plus 30 cents from each donation as a processing fee for payments.

According to Cervantes’ post on GoFundMe, he met Sanchez while the older man was pushing his cart and appeared to be having a hard time. “It broke my heart seeing this man that should be enjoying retirement still working at this age,” Cervantes wrote.

He bought 20 paletas and intentionally overpaid for the treats, which cost $1.50 each, giving Sanchez $50, and posted a photo to social media.

“A lot of people knew him,” Cervantes said in an interview. “After I put it on Facebook, people started inboxing me, and they were like, ‘I know that gentleman, he’s always around town.’ I should’ve expected it because he sells all across the 26th Street area. If it touches me, I should’ve known it touches everybody else who sees him.”

Cervantes also wrote in the fundraiser description that Sanchez’s daughter, who may have helped the elderly couple financially, died this year. “Mr. Fidencio Sanchez and his wife recently lost their only daughter and are still heartbroken about the situation. His elderly wife was selling paletas also to help pay bills, but she fell ill and can’t work anymore. 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 day.”

When Maria Luna saw Sanchez’s story on Facebook, she said she initially was a little hesitant to make a donation, wondering if the account was legitimate and if donation would make a difference. But the GoFundMe site made her more comfortable, and Luna, who lives in Los Angeles, gave $25.

“Sometimes we don’t think that we can make a difference, but now I see that every little helps,” Luna said in an email. “I feel good that I am a part of Mr. Sanchez and family’s well being.
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