Chicago community raises money for beloved street vendor robbed at gunpoint

One Chicago community is stepping up to help out a popular street vendor who was robbed on the South Side last week.

Elote cart vendor, Ruben "Pepe" Olivares, typically sits at the corner of 91st Street and Houston Avenue in the shadow of the SkyART Center.

On Thursday, he was robbed at gunpoint and has now left his corner in South Chicago for the first time in over a decade.

"He was trying to unpack his stuff when someone came from behind him and put a gun to his side, and they were basically asking him to give him all his money. Of the three customers that were there, one of them ran, and the other two didn’t know what to do, so they froze," said SkyART art center employee Jorge Ramirez. He translated for Olivares, who only speaks Spanish, during the interview.

"He is saying that he is destroyed," said Ramirez.

The suspect, who as of Monday is not in police custody, stole $2,000.

Olivares says it wasn’t just his hard-earned money he lost but also his sense of safety.

SkyART students were in class during the shooting.

"We had about 30 kids in the studio, and they heard the shots, and our staff immediately responded, making sure that they all got down on the floor," said SkyART Director of Development Basia Brown.

"When it was all going down, he wasn’t as much scared that he got shot; he was more scared that the kids around him would be in danger," said Ramirez.

Olivares will not return to his corner for another couple of weeks or until he feels ready to go back.

On the bright side, Olivares is overwhelmed by the community's love. The same customers who wrap around the corner for his elote are donating to him.

As of Monday, a GoFundMe page has raised $8,000, four times more than what he lost.

"He’s saying that he feels really honored and proud that he has a community that he can rely on," said Ramirez.

Olivares says not even bullets will pull him away from what he’s built.

"He’s told his wife that this is his work, this is his passion, so he would die on this corner if he could," said Ramirez.

Olivares and SkyART are now calling for more security and police presence in the neighborhood.

The center is offering therapy for its students and other neighbors after the incident.