In the sweltering North Carolina summer heat, Toribio Alberto dons a wide-brimmed hat and pushes an ice cream cart around apartment complexes off Nations Ford Road.
The 63-year-old said he was nearing the end of his route Tuesday night when two men approached his cart, saying they wanted to buy ice cream.
That’s when one of the men pulled out a gun and ordered Alberto to give them his money, he said.
When Alberto refused to hand over his earnings, he said the robbers pushed him to the ground and started beating him. They took his cell phone, wallet and $300 in cash that he had made that day.
When passing cars noticed the robbery, some drivers pulled over and yelled at the men to stop, Alberto said. The robbers ran away before police officers arrived.
One of those drivers was Gema Vu, who says Alberto used to be her patient when she worked at a chiropractic practice. Vu was at the intersection of Archdale Drive and Old Pineville Road when she saw people gathered around an injured ice cream man.
“I couldn’t recognize him at first,” she said. “His face was that swollen.”
Alberto was rushed to the hospital, where he stayed overnight. Vu was by his side the whole time, helping translate for Alberto, who doesn't speak English.
Vu said that the doctors ran a slew of tests, which showed that Alberto had fractured many of the bones in his face. They discharged him the next day and told him to rest for 15 days.
Alberto hasn’t received his medical bills yet, but he’s concerned that he won’t be able to make ends meet while he’s not working.
“It’s going to affect me a lot because I can’t buy food. I have a car, but I can’t buy gas,” he said in Spanish through a translator. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
For most of the year, Alberto said he works construction jobs around the city. But during the summer months, he spends between seven and ten hours each day pushing his ice cream cart.
This is the ninth summer that he has worked selling ice cream around his neighborhood.
After paying his bills, Alberto sends the rest of the money that he makes to his family in Honduras, where his wife and five kids live.
“With the money, I can support my family, but I’m risking my life, for what?,” he said. “Three hundred dollars is only going to last them a couple of days.”
Vu said that Alberto is a sweet, humble old man. She often drives past Alberto pushing his ice cream cart.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s 100 degrees, he’s always out there wearing his little hat,” she said.
Vu created a GoFundMe page for Alberto to help him pay his medical bills.
Alberto said he is overwhelmed by Vu’s and the community’s support.
“Those are real friends,” he said. “I never expected she would do that for me.”
Her fundraiser has collected more than $1,000 for Alberto as of noon Friday. The campaign was shared on Facebook by Comunidad Colectiva, an immigrant advocacy group, and dozens of others.
In the comments, one person who donated $50 to Alberto wrote, “Hoping you can bring smiles back to our neighborhoods soon. Best wishes for a quick recovery.”