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Stranger raises $356,000 for 89-year-old Mexican paleta vendor

Moved by Fidencio Sanchez's determination, Chicago native Joel Cervantes inspired thousands of people to donate money. Sanchez plans to give some of the money to others in need.
12 Sep 2016 – 2:28 PM EDT

A stranger has raised $356,000 for an elderly Mexican man after seeing him struggle with an ice cream cart in Chicago, Illinois.

On Sept. 8, Mexican restaurant owner Joel Cervantes was driving in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood, where he grew up, when he spotted 89-year-old Fidencio Sanchez pushing a paleta (Mexican ice popsicle) cart. Sanchez, a native of Morelos, Mexico, has depended on the cart for his livelihood for the past 23 years.

Cervantes pulled over and gave Sanchez $50 for 20 popsicles, and snapped a photo. He later posted it to Facebook, where he wrote, "I respect this man to the fullest!" His friend Joe Loera suggested setting up a GoFundMe fundraiser for the man.

After tracking the paleta vendor down, Cervantes discovered that Sanchez's only daughter passed away a month ago, and that his wife, Eladia, had also helped with paleta sales but had to stop after falling ill. The couple now cares for their two grandchildren.

"It broke my heart seeing this man that should be enjoying retirement still working at this age," Cervantes wrote on GoFundMe. "Let's all pitch in and help make life a little easier and brighten both of their day."

The goal was to raise $3,000. By Friday morning, the campaign had raised $356,000 from more than 16,000 people in 52 countries. The page has been shared more than 110,000 times.

"I am overwhelmed on all the support we are receiving. It's amazing how people are responding," Cervantes wrote on Facebook.

"We're so grateful and we hope God blesses the [donors]," Sanchez's wife Eladia told Univision's Viviana Ávila.

As the campaign went viral, hundreds of lawyers and financial experts have called Cervantes, vying to manage Sanchez's newfound funds.

"It's something that won't let me sleep, it's huge," Cervantes told Univision Chicago Tuesday. "It became like a big monster and we want the money to be in good hands."

Dulce Perez, the couple's granddaughter, is going to help manage the money.

"We will ask for help, to educate ourselves on how to manage things," she said. "We want it to be as safe as possible for my grandparents."

Sanchez, who's expected to receive the check this week, says he plans to keep working for now, and he hopes to pay the good deed forward.

"I'm going to give part of the money to the church here," he told Ávila. "I'm going to give another part to a church in my country [Mexico]. I'm going to give some to my grandchildren and some people in need." Sanchez also told Univision that he's considering using part of the money to buy life insurance and write a will.

The GoFundMe campaign will remain open through September 18.



This story has been updated to reflect the amount of money raised and with new quotes.

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