A Chicago street vendor whose story went viral in 2016 has died, a source close to his family said.
Fidencio Sanchez, who was in his early 90s, passed away early Wednesday from complications of sepsis, Joel Cervantes Macias said. Macias created a GoFundMe account for Sanchez in 2016 that garnered national attention and brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations for the longtime vendor.
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 more than three years ago. Cervantes pulled over to snap a photo before stopping to buy 20 paletas, giving Sanchez $50, and continuing on his way.
“It broke my heart seeing this man that should be enjoying retirement still working at this age,” Cervantes wrote on a GoFundMe page he created for Sanchez, who typically made about $50 on average each day selling paletas.
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 an overwhelming response - 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.
It turned out, Sanchez and his wife were grieving the loss of their only daughter at the time.
“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.”
The originally fundraising goal was set for $3,000. In less than a day, the page received more than $100,000 in donations. A week later more than 17,000 people had donated funds to his family, gathering a total of more than $380,000.
Sanchez received the check from GoFundMe in September 2016
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.
Speaking in Spanish, Sanchez at the time 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," Cervantes said. "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."
After Sanchez's death on Wednesday, Cervantes posted on Facebook that he was with family and loved ones at his bedside when he passed away.
"The family wants to give thanks to everybody from around the world that made his last three years of life happy and comfortable," Cervantes wrote.