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Lifestyle & Human Interest

'Life-Changing' Gift: Samaritan Raises Over $85,000 for Struggling 94-Year-Old

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It’s an unfortunate thing that many businesses are unwilling to hire people past a certain age, which leaves many to try to earn what income they can when they don’t have a retirement fund to lean on.

Jose Villa Ochoa, known as “Don Joel,” is a 94-year-old man in Santa Ana, California, who has been selling tamales on the street to try to earn some money to keep himself going. He earns just enough to get himself a few necessities — anything else is a luxury, including medication.

On July 5, a 28-year-old woman by the name of Kenia Barragan noticed Don Joel in the Chase parking lot selling tamales and she stopped to talk to him.

She posted an overview of their interactions on Facebook, asking for help.

“Came to Chase earlier and noticed this man,” she wrote.

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“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. I gave him my phone number, and told him to call me whenever he needs anything… this breaks my heart. If anyone wants to help him out, please reach out to me.”

Along with some cash, Barragan got Joel something to eat and the simple gesture of kindness brought the gentleman to tears. He promised to put in a good word for her as a thank you.

“Second video is me giving him $50 that someone donated to him and a Torta Ahogada I bought for him,” Barragan shared on Instagram. “He said he’s gonna go to church tomorrow and pray for me.”

Barragan told KTTV-TV that seeing Ochoa made her think of her own dad and her heart hurt for him. She started a GoFundMe for him, hoping to raise enough to take care of a few of his basic needs.

Her social media posts drew a lot of attention and many people donated generously to the GoFundMe.

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By the time the campaign was shut down, people had given to the tune of over $85,000.

Barragan thanked donors profusely and promised to keep tabs on the situation. She said the money will be used for a variety of necessities that Ochoa indicated he desired, including clothes, a power wheelchair, dental work, full medical checkups and medications, and a fund to cover his eventual funeral service and burial.

Barragan’s efforts benefited Ochoa tremendously and will give him some stability and peace about his own future. He called the incredible gift “life-changing.”

But Barragan benefited greatly as well, telling KTTV that she’s found her purpose in helping people — and she hopes others will look for ways to improve the lives around them, as well.

“I’ve always wanted a purpose in my life and I wanted to help people, I just didn’t know how,” she told the news outlet. “This was that starting point for me.”

“I hope people take care of our community. We need to take care of each other, and we need to realize that even if you can’t donate money, donate a prayer.”

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Amanda holds an MA in Rhetoric and TESOL from Cal Poly Pomona. After teaching composition and logic for several years, she's strayed into writing full-time and especially enjoys animal-related topics.
As of January 2019, Amanda has written over 1,000 stories for The Western Journal but doesn't really know how. Graduating from California State Polytechnic University with a MA in Rhetoric/Composition and TESOL, she wrote her thesis about metacognitive development and the skill transfer between reading and writing in freshman students.
She has a slew of interests that keep her busy, including trying out new recipes, enjoying nature, discussing ridiculous topics, reading, drawing, people watching, developing curriculum, and writing bios. Sometimes she has red hair, sometimes she has brown hair, sometimes she's had teal hair.
With a book on productive communication strategies in the works, Amanda is also writing and illustrating some children's books with her husband, Edward.
Austin, Texas
Languages Spoken
English und ein bißchen Deutsch
Topics of Expertise
Faith, Animals, Cooking