$136k raised online for elderly US popsicle vendor

Mr Cervantes set up the fundraiser for Mr Sanchez (left) as he wanted the elderly man to enjoy retirement instead of working.
Mr Cervantes set up the fundraiser for Mr Sanchez (above) as he wanted the elderly man to enjoy retirement instead of working.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/JOEL CERVANTES MACIAS

CHICAGO • An elderly street vendor in the United States got an unexpected boost from members of the public when an online fundraiser set up in his name pulled in over US$100,000 (S$136,000) in donations in one day.

Mr Fidencio Sanchez, 89, has spent years selling fruity popsicles called paletas around the predominantly working-class and Latino neighbourhood of Little Village in Chicago.

His pushcart and paleta supplier Gustavo Gutierrez told US news site DNA Info that Mr Sanchez retired two months ago, but returned to his trade after the death of his only daughter in July. Mr Sanchez's wife Eladia also used to sell paletas, but had to stop working due to ill health.

The fundraiser to help the Sanchez family was set up last Friday by Mr Joel Cervantes Macias, who runs his own restaurant in the area. Mr Cervantes wrote that he was driving through Little Village, where he grew up, when he saw Mr Sanchez struggling to push his cart by the road.

"It broke my heart seeing this man that should be enjoying retirement still working," Mr Cervantes wrote. He bought 20 paletas for US$50, but decided to also share Mr Sanchez's story with the community.

Although Mr Cervantes set an initial donation target of US$3,000, the fundraising page immediately attracted a flood of donations from across the US, with some donors giving as much as US$1,000 in one go.

The campaign spread online and offline, with Mr Sanchez learning of the community effort only when he attended church last Saturday.

In a video interview posted on Facebook, he said in Spanish that he felt that the fundraiser was "a very good thing" for him and his wife. He told Mr Cervantes that he was grateful for all the help and did not plan to continue working.

"People were very happy to see the numbers (on the donation page) keep going up," Mr Cervantes explained to the couple.

"Some people are still worried that this campaign for Don Fidencio can't be true, but I can assure you that it is," Mr Cervantes said on his personal Facebook page, using a title of respect for Mr Sanchez.

He said that he hoped to have a news crew from Spanish-language channel Univision present to document the exchange when he hands the cash to Mr Sanchez.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2016, with the headline '$136k raised online for elderly US popsicle vendor'. Print Edition | Subscribe