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Grandmother Sells Fruit to Cover Medical Costs

Impulso, Profile, Miriam Reyes Posted: Dec 05, 2009

A 76-year-old fruit peddler works the streets of South Los Angeles to meet medical expenses, maintain a sense of purpose, and help her family through tough times. She's made some friends along the way, too.

Doa Blanca Alvarez, a courageous woman working through hard times, sells fruits and vegetables on the streets of South Los Angeles.

Neither the cold nor the economic crisis discourage 76-year-old Blanca Alvarez from going out each day to push her cart over the streets of South Los Angeles, selling fruits and vegetables to customers who have been acquaintances and friends.

Alvarez pushes the cart to make enough money to pay for the medicines and vitamins she needs more and more as she ages. Anything extra goes to the expenses of the household she shares with some of her children and grandchildren. There's more, too, because this immigrant from Michoacan, Mexico, says that her little business makes her feel like a productive person even though she lives with her children.

"I go around selling tomatoes, cilantro, onions, strawberries, mangos, bananas, melons anything I can find when I go to the [wholesale produce] market at Olympic at Central," she says with a smile. "I do it to help myself a little bit, because I get sick frequently and I need the money to buy my medicines, because they're very expensive now and I only have emergency care."

Alvarez says that three years ago she had a gastric ulcer that burst, and soon needed $600 worth of medicines. Then she found it would cost more to stay on the diet suggested by doctors who treated the condition.

"With the money I earn from these fruits and vegetables I can buy myself the medicines and vitamins I need to take care of all my ailments like the pains in my back and legs, among others," she says. "In addition, I'm left with a little extra money to buy other personal items I need, and even to help a little bit with the household food expenses."

Dona Blanca
Doa Blanca Alvarez, a courageous woman working through hard times, sells fruits and vegetables on the streets of South Los Angeles. Photo by Impulso

Alvarez says she does not want to be totally dependent on her children, who take care of paying the rent. She says she chips in to pay for utilities and water because it makes her feel good about herself.

"At this time, we're in a very serious and difficult economic crisis, and any help at home is good," Alvarez says. "And since I'm always sick, with this I can help myself and avoid feeling like a burden for my children, because they have their own responsibilities, since they're married and have children."

Alvarez loads up with $60 worth of fruits and vegetables for her daily rounds. She says it's getting harder to sell the goods these days, as the recession continues to seep into life in South Los Angeles.

"That's why there are days when I don't sell all the merchandise," she says

Alvarez is dedicated to maintaining a consistent presence in her sales territory.

Alvarez has made friends with some of her neighborhood customers, including Margarita Garcia.
"Every day after buying the fruits and vegetables early in the morning, I take my cart up and down the streets selling a dollar, or three or four dollars per block," she says. "I announce my arrival with a little bell. The majority of my customers already know me, because I've been doing this for years, and they wait for me to go by in order to buy from me. I usually get home before nightfall, before five in the afternoon, although though there are times when sales are down, so I continue into the night."

Alvarez says she has no choice, because staying home every day would make her sick just thinking about her problems.

"I have to go out and sell every day, especially weekends," she says. "On Sundays, I go to mass early, and when it ends I go home right away to pick up my cart and I start walking around the area because, for me, all is good thanks to God's grace."

Peddling fruits and vegetables is relatively new to Alvarez, who used to sell tamales from her little cart.

"I couldn't keep cooking the tamales I sold because I get a sharp pain in my back, and well, before that I had the ruptured ulcer," she says. "That's why I decided to do this now, because it's sad to grow old and to wait for one's children, stretching out one's hand for them to give, and while I can, I want to succeed with my effort."

Alvarez says the police once took away her tamales and threw them in the street in an apparent attempt to discourage street peddling. She says that happened almost seven years ago and since then there have been no such incidents. Many of her customers have become acquaintances and some of them have become friends.

"Thanks to the blessed Lord, nothing bad has ever happened to me," Alvarez says. "I've never been robbed or had any problems with the [gang members]. I tell young people and my friends not to give up, even when things are slow and bad. They should not give up the struggle because if they don't struggle then there's nothing."

Miriam Reyes is a writer for Impulso.

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