Strangers Raise More Than $150K for Elderly Street Vendor | NBC Bay Area
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Strangers Raise More Than $150K for Elderly Street Vendor

The 89-year-old street vendor was forced to go back to work to pay the bills after his wife fell ill and the couple lost their only daughter

Fidencio Sanchez, 89, was presented with a check from GoFundMe Wednesday after more than 17,000 people donated to help raise more than $380,000 for the man and his family. Christian Farr reports. (Published Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016)

After decades of tireless work, a Chicago street vendor received some much-needed financial help all because of a picture posted by a driver passing by.

Fidencio Sanchez, 89, was presented with a check from GoFundMe Wednesday after more than 17,000 people donated to help raise more than $380,000 for the man and his family.

Speaking in Spanish, Sanchez expressed profound gratitude for the support of not only his community, but people across the world. 

"He said he’s ecstatic and he wants to give thanks to the community and the whole world everyone who has contributed to this fund," said Joel Cervantes, who started the GoFundMe campaign. "He’s very grateful, him and his wife are overwhelmed with all the outpouring of support everyone has given. He said he’ll never forget this and he thanks everyone, but most of all he thanks God."

Sanchez's story garnered national attention when Cervantes spotted the elderly man hunched over and struggling to push his cart selling paletas, or popsicles, down the side of the road in the city's Little Village neighborhood.

“It broke my heart seeing this man that should be enjoying retirement still working at this age,” Cervantes wrote on GoFundMe.

Cervantes pulled over to snap a photo before stopping to buy 20 paletas, giving Sanchez $50, and continuing on his way.

The street vendor typically only makes about $50 during an average day selling his paletas.

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When Cervantes got home, the image of the hardworking man couldn’t seem to leave his mind. He posted the photo on his Facebook page, with the caption, “I respect this man to the fullest, but had no idea the image would get such an overwhelming response. It was quickly shared more than 400 times.

That was when his friend Jose Loera came up with the idea to start a GoFundMe campaign in hopes those inspired by Sanchez’s story could band together to make even the smallest of a difference in his family’s life.

The originally fundraising goal was set for $3,000.

It turned out, Sanchez and his wife are still grieving the recent loss of their only daughter.

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“His elderly wife was selling paletas also to help pay bills, but she fell ill and can't work anymore,” Cervantes wrote on GoFundMe. “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.”

In less than a day, the page received more than $100,000 in donations.

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A week later more than 17,000 people had donated funds to his family, gathering a total of more than $380,000.

"It’s gonna help him security-wise, financial security," said Cervantes. "We’re pretty sure he’s not going to rent anymore."

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"He loves working 'cause it keeps him young, so I keep telling him just get a treadmill," he joked. "I think he’s going to get a hearing aid first."

GoFundMe said the campaign was the largest ever created in Illinois, and had received donations from people in more than 52 countries across the world.

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