Like many others around the country, Jose Villarruel has been struggling financially during the coronavirus pandemic.
The substitute teacher from Southern California saw his hours cut as schools around the country closed their doors to slow the spread of the virus starting in early 2020. According to KCBS, Villarruel had already been living out of his car for years to help provide for his family with the little income he made, and the change to his situation made things worse.
"I couldn't possibly support my family and extended family in Mexico and rent an apartment here at the same time with the income that I can have," Villarruel, who lives out of a 1997 Ford Thunderbird LX, told the news station.
Steven Nava, Villarruel's former student, remembered seeing Villarruel retrieve items from his car.
"Every day I'd go out to work around 5 a.m. and see him going through his trunk," Nava told KCBS. "I just felt the need to do something about it."
Under normal circumstances, substitute teachers can expect to bring in anywhere betwen $22,000 to $32,000 a year in the United States, according to data from ZipRecruiter. Typically, substitutes make around $10 to $15 an hour.
Nava took it upon himself to start a GoFundMe earlier this month to help Villarruel. The campaign raised more than $27,000 in six days.
"Mr. V was a great funny and helpful educator and substitute teacher in the Fontana Unified School District," Nava wrote on the donation page. "He's struggled with getting back on his feet after the pandemic hit and has been living in his car ever since despite the brutal weather and living conditions."
"This fundraiser is to help him out financially and getting back to normal life," he added. "Any help is appreciated, thank you god bless."
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Nava presented Villarruel with the $27,000 check generated from the donations on Thursday, which also happened to be Villarruel's 77th birthday.
"We don't appreciate these teachers enough, and that's something that we should be doing," Nava told KCBS.
The money will undoubtedly give Villarruel a bit of relief as the country continues to make strides during the pandemic.
"I'm still trying to digest the entire experience," Villarruel told KCBS. "It's extraordinary, totally unexpected."