Neighbors rally behind beloved ice cream man after heart attack originally appeared on goodmorningamerica.com
A Chicago community is taking "love thy neighbor" to heart by raising funds for a beloved local ice cream man after he endured a series of hardships.
To say the past few weeks have been difficult for ice cream truck operator Mario Nieto would be an understatement.
First, Nieto needed to scrounge up money to send to his cancer-stricken wife in Mexico for treatment. Then his ice cream truck broke down. And then he had a heart attack.
Since 2004, Nieto has served the same neighborhood ice cream cones, sundaes, shakes and more from his truck, "The San Luis Freeze," after his day job at a local candy factory.
For 15 years, Nieto's presence has been a summer staple in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood.
"Mario was the person that really brought everybody out of their homes every night in the summertime," Logan Square resident and GoFundMe organizer Donn Bichsel said.
So when the "glue" of their community disappeared for a couple of weeks, neighbors grew concerned.
"Because of Mario, all of us on our block that have lived there for a long time, we all know each other on a first-name basis," Bichsel said.
Bichsel, a native Chicagoan and the chief commercial officer for Revolution Brewing, has been getting his ice cream from Mario for more than 14 years -- before he had kids. He first sounded the alarm when he noticed that Nieto's truck hadn't made its usual stop in the neighborhood for two weeks.
He called Nieto and learned that the ice cream truck was broken, but that Nieto had repaired it and hoped to get back to his neighborhood rounds soon.
Then, two more weeks came with no Nieto. Then two more weeks. Bichsel reached out again, but didn't hear back.
Nieto couldn't respond because he was in the hospital after having a heart attack.
When he was released from the hospital, Nieto and Bichsel finally met up. To help pay for his wife's radiation and chemotherapy, Nieto asked Bichsel for a small loan, but after hearing his story, Bichsel got creative.
"I have two angels," Nieto said. "Donn and his wife."
Bichsel organized a GoFundMe for his friend, and the neighborhood has raised more than $16,000 toward a $25,000 goal.
Bichsel emphasized that the sum continues to grow -- an outpouring of love because the community wants to return the favor to someone who's always been there for them.
"Everybody wants to help, and everybody wants to be a part of this," Bichsel said.
Donations of all sizes came pouring in, and comments on the GoFundMe share fond memories of the ice cream man.
Nieto said he was blown away by the level of support.
"Young kids, young teenagers, and old people -- everybody loves me, and I love them too," Nieto said.
Bichsel hopes that the funds raised will help Nieto provide for his own family, but until he can get back to them, they're happy to act as family in the meantime.
"You can see it in him -- that he sees that there's hope and that there's an opportunity for him to take care of his wife," Bichsel added. "All of us in the neighborhood, my wife and myself, our friends are trying to figure out what to do next."