I'm a working mom who loves farmer's markets. We have been going to the Sunnyvale and Mountain View markets for years. A few years ago, when the pandemic hit, they moved the Sunnyvale Farmer's Market out of Murphy Street to make room for the restaurants and laid it out along Washington and Frances Streets.
That’s when I first saw Ciriaco. It was sometime toward the end of 2021. I didn’t know his name then. He stood quietly near the fruit stands with a little cut-out cardboard with the words “Please can you help me I can’t work.”
Something about Ciriaco struck me as particularly poignant. He was older, his sun-worn face peeking out behind his mask, and his eyes, gentle, kind, but hurting. He carried himself with dignity, regardless of the unenviable position he was in having to ask strangers for money. I wondered what his story was… who his family was, how he ended up here.
That first time, I gave him a few dollars. The next time I saw him, I bought him a nice big bag of peaches. Each time I saw him, I would give him either fresh veggies, bread, or other food items from the market, or cash. And each time I felt this pang in my heart. This wasn't right. No one should have to live with this kind of insecurity.
One day I walked up to him and said, “Habla español?” He said yes. I’m bilingual, so we started chatting. He told me he can’t work because of a hernia that needs to get operated. I asked him if he has insurance; he said no. Clearly he didn’t have the money for an operation either, if he had to come to the market to ask for donations every weekend.
So I reached out on Nextdoor to ask people about community services or low-cost insurance he could access. People immediately responded (thank you again to all of you!) and I printed out a list of phone numbers and addresses of local organizations for him.
For the next few months, I’d check in with Ciriaco to make sure he was getting a response, since he couldn’t speak English. Finally, this past December, he confirmed his insurance papers had arrived. But he was badly in need of money for his rent.
I asked him how much he needs.
$400/month to help his brother with the rent. $400. That’s a whole decimal point less than what some apartments and houses cost to rent here in Sunnyvale. This is doable! So the idea to start a GoFundMe campaign sparked. We started with a goal of 3 months' worth of rent, and the community has stepped up in a big way. So why not double the goal and provide for a steady stream of basic monthly income for Ciriaco so he can heal and get back on his feet.
And just for full transparency... since one person commented that if we give him cash he'll just use it to "buy beer."
Ciriaco shared with me his cash receipts for the things he routinely buys. He buys corn and beans. Fried chicken. Some veggies. And damaged cookware from Goodwill... just so he can put a meal together. No beer.