CHICAGO — Fidencio Sanchez, the Little Village “Paleta Man” whose hard work inspired people around the world, has died.
Sanchez died early Wednesday. He became famous in 2016 when a GoFundMe to help him and his family raised $385,000 — even though he said he’d continue to work despite being 89 years old.
Joel Cervantes, who organized the record-breaking GoFundMe, announced Sanchez’s death. The two had kept in touch, though Cervantes lives in Wisconsin.
“I want to thank everybody from the bottom of my heart that made this man’s life a little more comfortable in his last years,” Cervantes said.
Despite the donations, Sanchez and his wife, Eladia Sanchez, continued to live frugally. The two were “old-fashioned and comfortable where they were” and stayed in the same home they’d rented for years, Cervantes said.
Sanchez and his wife occasionally took small trips and visited family in Kansas City, but they didn’t splurge on a vacation, Cervantes. Their only big purchase was an SUV, which they kept in good condition.
“They loved going to Chinese buffets, but before [the fundraiser] they wouldn’t be able to. [After] they’d do it once a month,” Cervantes said.
But Sanchez did retire. He had loved walking, so he continued to walk to a local park until his health deteriorated.
Sanchez’s wife is alive but battling health issues, and he’s also survived by a granddaughter.
“I’m just thankful to all the kind people who donated,” Cervantes said. “It changed my perspective of humanity.
“… One act of kindness can change a person’s life forever.”
Cervantes didn’t know Sanchez before he set up the GoFundMe. He spotted the Paleta Man on the Near West Side as Sanchez walked the streets, selling paletas from a pushcart. Cervantes learned Sanchez had retired earlier in 2016, but he had returned to work two months later when his daughter died.
At the time, Sanchez was making $50 to $60 per day, working six days a week during the summer.
Cervantes and another fundraiser, Jose Loera, originally planned to raise just $3,000 through GoFundMe. They thought the money could help Sanchez slow down and take care of his health.
But more than 17,000 people donated in just a matter of days, ultimately raising about $385,000 to help Sanchez and his wife.
When the time came for Sanchez to accept the money, he appeared with his paleta cart and told a crowd of reporters he was happy and thankful to the donors and to God.
“We’re very pleased, very happy, very honored by everybody that became part of this in Little Village,” Gustavo Gutierrez, who provided Sanchez with paletas, said at the time. “Mr. Sanchez is an example for everybody around.”
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