A random encounter with a complete stranger changed 94-year-old Don Joel's life almost overnight.
A hard-working 94-year-old street vendor can now finally enjoy some comfort in his late age thanks to the efforts of a young customer. Jose Villa Ochoa, who is known as "Don Joel" in his community, was brought to tears by an unexpected act of generosity by a complete stranger earlier this month. The elderly man was selling tamales on a corner of Santa Ana, California when he was approached by 28-year-old Kenia Barragan who struck up a conversation with him. Something about Barragan prompted Don Joel to open up about the hardships he bore even at this age. Little did he know that their short conversation would lead to an entire community rallying behind him to make his life a bit more comfortable.
Speaking of the encounter that changed his life for the better, Don Joel told KNBC that Barragan came up to him and gave him $5. She asked him he’d eaten anything yet and when he said that he hadn't, she immediately offered to bring him a sandwich. "No, no, no, don’t worry about it," he told her, but Barragan wasn't one to take no for an answer. She came back with a torta ahogada—a Mexican "drowned" sandwich—and got talking to him about his life.
Don Joel told her how due to his age, no one would hire him. He got by on the little he made through selling tamales for a lady. Sharing his story on Instagram, Barragan wrote: Came to Chase earlier and noticed this man. He was selling tamales, so I approached him and gave him the cash I had and told him to keep the tamales for someone else. I started talking to him, and he told me that because he's old, no one will hire him, so he sells tamales for a lady, and then she gives him money at the end of the day.
His name is Joel, he's 94-years-old and uses a wheelchair to get around. He can barely afford to buy his coffee and bread in the morning to eat and doesn't have money to pay for a phone, let alone his medication. I found all this out, just by taking a few minutes out of my day to acknowledge a stranger, she continued. I gave him my phone number, and told him to call me whenever he needs anything... this breaks my heart.
She also posted a heartwrenching video of Don Joel in tears after she handed him the $50 someone had donated after hearing his life story.
(Santa Ana, CA): A stranger surprised 94-yr-old tamale street vendor with $81k she raised for him. In their 1st meeting, he told how he was having a hard time making ends meet, so Kenia decided to take it on herself to help out— buying new shoes, wheelchair & the $81k donation! pic.twitter.com/bu9iJg1ZqB— GoodNewsCorrespondent (@GoodNewsCorres1) July 14, 2020
"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," said Barragan. "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." A GoFundMe campaign set up to help Don Joel raised a little over $85,000 in a matter of days and the elderly citizen can hardly believe how his life has changed almost overnight thanks to a random encounter.
"[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.— NBC Los Angeles (@NBCLA) July 10, 2020
"[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," said Don Joel, an immigrant from Acapulco who went out to work because he didn’t want to burden his daughter financially. Barragan explained in a GoFundMe update that the money raised will go towards getting him a few essentials including a power wheelchair since the one he was using was eight-years-old, rusting, falling apart, and had wheels that didn't turn. For now, a local organization in Santa Ana has stepped up to provide him a temporary wheelchair that's in better condition than his old one. "I thank the people who are doing that, and I hope that everyone is doing well," he said.