Community rallies to raise funds for family of organizer, activist slain in Humboldt Park

Ruben Olivares | Provided

When the pandemic hit, Ruben Olivares stepped up for his community. He began volunteering at the Northwest Center in Belmont-Cragin, helping to distribute food, masks and hand sanitizer.

And when a vaccine was made available Olivares was hired as a contract worker with the social service organization, helping thousands of residents gain access to life-saving shots. He also cared deeply about public safety, often organizing efforts to curb crime in the community.

Those selfless efforts were typical of a father who friends and coworkers described as dependable, kind and hard-working.

Last month, Olivares, 36, was fatally shot outside his home in Humboldt Park. He had just gotten back from his second job at a bakery, and it was a few days before he and his family were set to move to a home he had purchased on the Northwest Side, according to Nancy Valentin, director of health equity at Northwest Center.

"He was working on public safety, and to lose him this way is very, very hard," Valentin said. "He was working to help diminish the very thing that took him from us."

Northwest Center has organized a GoFundMe to help pay expenses for his wife and two daughters. So far, it has raised $18,000 of its $25,000 goal.

"It’s really been wonderful to see how people have rallied around his wife and kids," Valentin said.


James Rudyk, who got to know Olivares when he first started volunteering with the organization, said he wasn’t surprised by the outpouring of support from the community.

Everyone who knew Olivares had a good word to say about him, Rudyk said, especially those who worked under him as manager for the health equity program at Northwest Center.

"He was just a really good guy. He was always there, he was always dependable, he always showed up, he always helped," Rudyk said. "He was always on."

Olivares’ family hopes those responsible for his slaying can be brought to justice. No arrests have been announced in connection with the shooting, which occurred about 6:45 p.m. Jan. 18 in the 3200 block of West Cortez Street, Chicago police said.

Olivares had left the office about 5 p.m. but stopped by his other job at La Canasta Bakery, 3575 W. Armitage, to bake a cake that was requested at the last minute, said Valentin, who spoke with Olivares’ family.

Olivares returned home about five to 10 minutes after his wife and children. He was in his car when someone pulled up in another vehicle and opened fire, striking him in the hip. His wife heard the gunshots and called Olivares, telling him "to be careful," Valentin said. He replied, "I’ve been shot, call the ambulance." Olivares died from his wounds at a hospital five days later.

Olivares "was very well-liked, and people really connected with him fast, he was very cordial," Valentin said. "That left an impression on a lot of people, because he was out there doing the work and connecting with people."

Valentin said Olivares had a large family, and they’re all grieving in their own ways. His wife, who asked not to be identified, is having a hard time organizing the family’s move to the new home, "since she realizes that he won’t be a part of that," Valentin said.

"It’s really, really cruel to think that he had finally met his goal of buying the home and he was shot," Valentin said. "He leaves me with a lot of lessons on compassion and kindness and respectability, and to be a decent human being."