Internet campaign raises $280,000 for US elderly street vendor

vendor2CHICAGO: An 89-year-old Chicago man who sells popsicles from a street cart has received more than $280,000 in donations from an online campaign to help him.

Fidencio Sanchez is known as the paleta (popsicle) man on the GoFundMe page set up for him by Joel Cervantes, a restauranteur who ran into Sanchez in Little Village, a predominantly Latino neighborhood.

Moved by the sight of a frail Sanchez hunched over and struggling to push his cart, Cervantes created an online fundraising campaign.

“Mr Fedencio 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,” Cervantes wrote on GoFundMe on September 9 — setting a modest goal to collect $3,000.

“In 54 minutes, to be exact, we already reached that,” Cervantes told the Chicago Tribune, soon realizing that Sanchez had been such a presence in the neighborhood, that many people wanted to help.

Almost 13,000 donations have come in so far, making the campaign one of the most popular on the site.

The episode has turned Sanchez into a minor celebrity. He now must contend with a throng of news cameras while walking the street.

Speaking in Spanish, he expressed his gratitude while being interviewed by multiple news outlets.

“I’m very grateful and very happy,” Sanchez told CNN. “And I’ll stop working soon.”

The elderly man said he had to keep working to pay daily living expenses for him and his wife. But, he also said that he enjoyed working, having gotten his start in agricultural fields at the age of 13.

Gustavo Pedraza, who owns the company that employs Sanchez, said the elderly man has been pushing the popsicle cart for more than 20 years.

“Every summer, he always comes back, and he’s always really, really hard working,” Pedraza told Cervantes in an online video.

“The Sanchez family really appreciates all the love and support that they are receiving from people from all around the world,” Cervantes wrote in an update on GoFundMe, saying he planned to disburse the donations later in the week.

“We are leaving it up for a few more days because people still seem to be donating,” he said.