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Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

Pilsen Steps Up Again To Help Ailing Paletero, Whose Plight Sheds Light On Struggles Aging Immigrants Face

A GoFundMe for Don Ananías Ocampo aims to help him recover after surgery and find more reliable housing.

Ananías Ocampo sells ice cream and paletas in Pilsen.
Mauricio Peña / Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — Two years after Pilsen neighbors raised $10,000 so paletero Don Ananías Ocampo could pay medical bills and secure new housing, they’re rallying to help him again after knee surgery.

For years, 77-year-old Ocampo has been a well-known fixture in the neighborhood, selling paletas and other frozen treats at 18th and Paulina streets. People could find him on the corner near the 18th Street Pink Line station in the spring and summer talking with passerby and offering smiles with his treats. 

Now, Ocampo’s failing health prevents him from pushing his cart and making a living. Neighbors organized a new GoFundMe for Ocampo this week to help him recuperate after a knee replacement and find more suitable, permanent housing. As of Sunday night, the campaign has raised over $1,100 of its $12,000 goal.

Campaign organizer Ben Emmrich, a Pilsen resident who first met Ocampo during the initial fundraiser in 2019, said he’s been “sucked in by [Ocampo’s] kindness.”

The first fundraiser helped Ocampo get an apartment in Back of the Yards. Unfortunately, the rent was hiked to the point where Ocampo couldn’t afford it and the walking commute to Pilsen became unmanageable, Emmrich said.

Ocampo’s current living conditions, which consist of a single room behind a restaurant, aren’t dignified or safe, Emmrich said.

“But despite all this, he’s the brightest, happiest, most thankful man,” he said.

Local activist Hilda Burgos has been “fierce and relentless” in her support and care of Ocampo since she met him in 2019 when she realized he didn’t have people in his life to care for him, Emmrich said.

“He could be my father,” Burgos said of Ocampo back in 2019. 

Burgos, who’s lived in Pilsen for more than 20 years and worked in activism for 12 years, said over the past year she’s helped Ocampo apply for and receive health care through a program, which had been a roadblock for Ocampo. 

In August 2019, Hoy reported on Ocampo’s deteriorating health and the difficulties immigrants face as they grow older with fewer job prospects. Ocampo immigrated from Guerrero, Mexico to Pilsen after his wife died 30 years ago, according to the report. 

In Chicago, Ocampo has worked in factories, as a dishwasher in restaurants and other odd jobs through temp agencies. Eventually, he started selling ice cream and paletas for Cafe Emmanuel, 1915 W. 19th St., in the spring and summer, and sold queso fresco door to door in the winter, he said.

In recent years, Ocampo has been in a lot of pain as his knees began to fail and he was diagnosed with diabetes and Parkinsons, according to Burgos. 

Last week, Ocampo underwent surgery for his right knee, though eventually he’ll need surgery for his left knee, as well. He’s in pain but recovering well, Burgos said.

But as he’s unable to work, he’ll need financial help during his recovery.

“Right now, one of the most urgent needs is economic resources in order to continue taking care of [him],” Burgos said.

You can donate to Ananías Ocampo here.

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