Food cart vendor beaten and robbed; Belmont-Cragin community steps in to come to his aid

Gonzalo Garcia, 58, was attacked by multiple people who stole about $300 from his pockets.

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Gonzalo Garcia, stands near the scene where he was attacked by students while he was selling food, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. Brenda Correa, 16, is helping Garcia by setting up a GoFundMe to help with costs related to his attack. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Gonzalo Garcia was about finished working for the day Dec. 2, selling corn and other food from his cart in the Belmont-Cragin community.

He’d moved closer to the bus loop just east of the Chicago Fire Station in the 5200 block of West Grand Avenue to sell some last items before catching a bus home.

Around 4:05 p.m., multiple students also waiting for a bus attacked him, said Garcia, 58, who lives in the area and is originally from Veracruz, Mexico. They punched him in the face and body with closed fists, and when Garcia fell to the ground and his blood covered the pavement, they stole about $300 from his pocket, Garcia said.

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“I don’t know who they were,” Garcia said in Spanish during an interview Tuesday. “They hit me so I couldn’t chase after them.”

He was taken in an ambulance to Community First Medical Center, spending hours being treated for his injuries. A hospital employee applied for Garcia’s medical bills to be covered under the Illinois Crime Victim’s Compensation Act.

The next day, photos and videos of the attack started popping up on Brenda Correa’s social media feed. Though she had never bought something from Garcia’s stand, Correa, 16, walked past him almost daily to get to her bus stop, said the junior at ITW David Speer Academy, a public charter school.

Even from her brief interactions with Garcia, Correa said she could tell he was “such an awesome human being.”

With the backing of her school, Correa took to social media to track down Garcia and raise money to cover what he lost in the attack.

“I have a lot of family who came from the bottom, who came here from Mexico, who came here and built themselves up,” Correa said. “I can just tell by looking at him, he wants to build himself up and make a name for himself.”

Initially, Garcia was reluctant to accept Correa’s help, showing “how selfless he is,” Correa said.

But after talking on the phone and meeting in person at the same spot Garcia was attacked, he welcomed Correa’s mission to aid him.

“I feel like she is an angel,” Garcia said. “I don’t know how to thank her for what she is doing for me.”

Brenda Correa, 16, and Gonzalo Garcia speak into a camera Tuesday for a GoFundMe campaign near the scene where Garcia was attacked by students while he was selling food. Correa is helping Garcia by setting up a GoFundMe to help cover costs related to the attack.

Brenda Correa, 16, and Gonzalo Garcia speak into a camera Tuesday for a GoFundMe campaign near the scene where Garcia was attacked by students while he was selling food. Correa is helping Garcia by setting up a GoFundMe to help cover costs related to the attack.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Correa said a couple of her friends saw the attack happen, witnessing as many as three or four attackers. Some students from Prosser Career Academy, a Chicago Public School across the street from Speer, said the attackers were classmates who also attended their high school, Correa said.

Cassandra Hannah, assistant principal at Speer, confirmed the school learned the attackers were students from Prosser.

Prosser Principal Sandra Shimon did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Being back where he was beaten, Garcia said he was scared and “didn’t feel confident.” Selling food from his cart is Garcia’s primary source of income, but after what happened last week, he said he plans to look for other jobs or, at the very least, sell elsewhere.

To his attackers, Garcia said they should first think of the families of people they assault and “never do it again.”

“It’s not cool for the students to act this way,” Garcia said. “But I wish that God forgives them because I also forgive them.”

An online fundraiser for Garcia, at gofund.me/08f17355, had raised about $14,000 as of Wednesday night.

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