LOGAN SQUARE — When Mario Nieto Hernandez learned that his friend and longtime customer Donn Bichsel was launching an online fundraiser for him, he assumed it would be a “small effort,” that he’d ask a few neighbors in the area where he sells ice cream.
“I thought, sure, anything people could help [with]. I would be more than grateful,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez and his San Luis Freeze ice cream truck is a summer staple in west Logan Square — and has been for more than 15 years. But this summer, Hernandez fell on hard times. His truck broke down and he didn’t have the money to fix it because he’s been sending most of his earnings to Mexico to fund his ailing wife’s breast cancer recovery. Hernandez himself also suffered from a heart attack.
Saddled with medical debt, Hernandez asked Bichsel for advice. He was looking for a loan to get back on his feet.
Bichsel, whose family routinely buys ice cream from Hernandez, did one better and gave him $200 to get his truck fixed and then launched a GoFundMe campaign.
The fundraiser exploded. Bichsel initially set the goal at $5,000 and has upped it twice as donations rolled in. As of Thursday afternoon, the campaign had raised $14,575.
“I didn’t expect or envision this. I really didn’t,” Hernandez said.
“I’m just so grateful and blessed by God and all the neighbors who have helped out. I’ve gone out to thank them personally.”
Hernandez said when he told his wife, Maria, about the donations, she was skeptical at first. She worried how people might perceive her family.
“She said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t want problems because maybe people think differently,'” Hernandez said. “I told her, ‘No it’s the truth. What happened with you and what happened with me — that’s the truth.'”
Eventually the reality of the situation began to sink in.
“She said, ‘Oh that’s amazing. You have so many angels in your life.'”
Hernandez is originally from San Luis Potosi, Mexico. His wife and three kids, ages 26, 32 and 34, all live there.
Hernandez first moved to Chicago in 1992. He worked various jobs, including the ice cream truck, to provide for his family in Mexico. A couple years later, he returned to Mexico where he lived for several years before moving to Houston for a couple of years in the early 2000s.
Hernandez moved back to Chicago in 2004, and has been living in the city ever since, working various jobs. He currently works at a local candy factory during the day and sells ice cream in the evenings.
Over the years, Hernandez has formed countless bonds with neighbors, but none as special as his friendship with Bichsel.
“He is a magnificent person, him and his family,” Hernandez said of Bichsel.”He demonstrated what a great friend is. … He has been helping me without any asking for anything in return. I’m forever grateful for Donn.”
Thanks to Bichsel and other neighbors, Hernandez’s ice cream truck is back up and running and he’s able to pay off some of his medical bills. He said he doesn’t plan on quitting the ice cream truck business anytime soon.
“Oh, no no. I just stop when it rains, or when my truck is broken, but not [because] of me,” Hernandez said.
You can donate to Mario here.
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