Santa Ana

Santa Ana Community Rallies Behind 94-Year-Old Tamale Vendor

“[People] are offering me so much along with their money. I wanted to cry, because I feel bad that they’re giving it to me,” Don Joel said.

The Santa Ana community has rallied behind a hard-working 94-year-old man -- a tamale vendor who despite his age, inability to walk and wheelchair that hardly moves, has never given up on his work.

Jose Villa’s routine changed his life from one day to another and it’s now been filled with monetary donations.

Kenia Barragan saw “Don Joel,” as the neighbors call him, last Sunday, selling tamales on a corner of Santa Ana.

Don Joel said Barragan gave him $5, and then asked him if he’d eaten yet. When he said he hadn’t, she offered to bring him a sandwich, but he said, “No, no, no, don’t worry about it.”

Barragan wasn’t taking no for an answer. 

She came back with torta ahogada, a Mexican "drowned" sandwich, for the tamale vendor. And she also told his story on social media and opened a GoFundMe account on his behalf. One of the first donations he received was $5,000.

"Sometimes it’s just about taking a little of your time and listening to someone’s story. And the most I could do was share it so that more people can help," Barragan said."I just want to help someone. I think that at 94 he deserves something good, that he should have a good time in his life.”

In three days, the account has raised more than $60,000 dollars for Don Joel, an immigrant from Acapulco who went out to work because he didn’t want to burden his daughter financially.

“[People] are offering me so much along with their money. I wanted to cry, because I feel bad that they’re giving it to me,” Don Joel said.

Don Joel’s wheelchair is eight years old and falling apart. It’s rusting and its wheels do not turn.

A local organization in Santa Ana stepped in to offer him a better used wheelchair for now, and his daughter said that this Tuesday they were going to pick it up.

Don Joel had a few words for those who, without knowing him, changed his life in an instant.

"I thank the people who are doing that, and I hope that everyone is doing well," he said.

The GoFundMe has raised more than $80,000.

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