When Joel Cervantes Macias posted his photo of a hunched over 89-year-old Fidencio Sanchez pushing his paleta cart down the street in Little Village, Macias never imagined the blessings it would bring.
Those blessings: $384,290 donated by 17,447 people in about 60 countries over the course of an 11-day GoFundMe campaign that began on Sept. 9.
A check was presented to the elderly man and his wife, Eladia, on Wednesday, outside the same ice cream shop where he has daily commissioned the cart to sell popsicles for 10 to 15 years.
Sanchez made his living that way for the past 23 years. In eight-hour days, six days a week during the summer, he pushed the cart up and down the streets of the largely Hispanic community, earning $50 to $60 a day.
He won’t have to do that anymore. Strangers moved by the poignant photo Macias posted on social media have helped Sanchez to retire.
“I’m happy, I thank God, and I thank everybody. I’ll never forget this,” Sanchez said through a translator, as he and wife grinned ear-to-ear after posing with an oversized check.
It all began when Macias, formerly of Little Village and now living in Stoughton, Wisconsin, visited in early September and saw Sanchez pushing his cart down 26th Street. He snapped a photo and posted it on Facebook. It drew instant empathy. Seeing the photo, Jose Loera reached out to Cervantes and suggested the two start a GoFundMe campaign for Sanchez.
“I said maybe we can raise $200 to give him a day off. Joel said, ‘Let’s get him a week off. Let’s go for $3,000,’ ” said Loera, 42, of Lombard.
“In less than an hour, people had donated $4,000. That’s when I realized it was something huge. I went to bed, woke up and it was up to $35,000,” said Macias, 41. “Money came from Germany, from Israel, India, Chile, Argentina. I couldn’t believe it. It just shows that everywhere in the world that we’re all the same.”
When Macias and Loera found Sanchez, they learned he had hoped to retire two months ago. But he returned to pushing the cart after his daughter, who supported him and his wife, died suddenly.
So what’s the couple going to do with the sudden largesse?
Perhaps buy a home for the first time, they said through a translator. A pro-bono attorney has been secured to help them figure it out.