Fidencio Sanchez, an 89-year-old man who has walked the streets of Chicago and sold paletas for decades, was the focus of a GoFundMe campaign that went viral before ending this week. The campaign made history, becoming the largest GoFundMe fundraiser in Illinois and one of the top 25 campaigns in the United States.
Two strangers, Joel Cervantes and Jose Loera, set up the campaign after one of them saw Sanchez selling popsicles on the Near West Side and was touched by the hard work the elderly man put in day in and day out. They learned Sanchez had retired earlier this year, only to return to work two months later when his daughter died.
Cervantes and Loera initially suggested raising $200 to help Sanchez before settling on a goal of $3,000 and creating the GoFundMe campaign.
Instead, hundreds of thousands of dollars poured in in a matter of days, with more than 17,000 people from 69 countries eventually giving money to help the "Paleta Man." The largest donation was for $2,000, according to GoFundMe, and $384,290 was raised by the end of the campaign Monday.
Joel Cervantes, Eladia Sanchez, Fidencio Sanchez and Jose Loera pose with a check for nearly $385,000 from GoFundMe. [DNAinfo/Kelly Bauer]
That money was presented Wednesday to Sanchez and his wife, Eladia. Sanchez pushed a paleta cart up to a row of microphones before Cervantes and Loera, literally presented him with a large check.
Sanchez, almost hidden behind the check, laughed and thanked the people who had donated to him, saying he was happy.
"He said he'll never forget this, and he thanks everybody, and most of all he thanks God," Cervantes said, translating for Sanchez.
A GoFundMe check to 89-year-old Fidencio Sanchez says the money is being donated to him for "a lifetime of hard work." [DNAinfo/Kelly Bauer]
It would have taken Sanchez decades to make that money selling paletas. Gustavo Gutierrez, who provides Sanchez with the cart he uses to sell the popsicles, said Sanchez typically makes $50 to $60 per day and works about six days a week during the summer.
Now, supporters — including Cervantes and Loera — hope Sanchez will be able to slow down, work less and take care of his health.
Sanchez plans to take a little break before returning to work here and there, said his attorney, Salvador Lopez.
The money is "going to help him just security-wise. I'm pretty sure he's not going to rent anymore," Cervantes said.
"Or work, hopefully," Loera added.
"Or work as hard," Cervantes said. "He said he loves working because it keeps him young. I keep telling him, 'Just buy a treadmill.' It'll help tremendously."
The story showed people a different side of Little Village, Gutierrez said, adding that many think of drugs and gangs when they think of the neighborhood. But Sanchez's story of hard work became a "worldwide message" about how Latinos provide for people, work and help the economy.
"We're very pleased, very happy, very honored by everybody that became part of this in Little Village," Gutierrez said. "Mr. Sanchez is an example for everybody around."
Fidencio Sanchez, the "Paleta Man," inspired people from all over the word. [DNAinfo/Kelly Bauer]
Loera and Cervantes said the story also showed how many elderly people are still working to make ends meet in the United States.
There are "hundreds of GoFundMes that are trying to start campaigns for people his age doing the same thing, selling tamales, selling corn, things like that," Cervantes said. "It just gave a small glimpse of how there's many people out there working hard to make ends meet."
The Robson and Lopez law firm, working for free, will help the couple work with financial advisers and tax experts to spend and donate their money wisely, Lopez said.
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