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Feeling unfulfilled with his content, 24-year-old social media star, Jesús Morales, known as @juixxe online, turned to TikTok last summer looking for inspiration. That’s when he came across other users on the platform raising money from their followers to give out generous tips to food service workers during the pandemic.
"I remember just sitting there thinking, 'Wow, I wish I could do that, but I want to do it for street vendors and I want to give them thousands of dollars,'" Morales told TODAY Food. "That would be so amazing.'"
A year later, Morales has been able to raise $135,000 to support over 90 street vendors in Southern California thanks to the generosity of his 1.3 million followers on TikTok. Now, he hopes other people will take inspiration from his work and support their local vendors however they can.
Taking $100 out of his own pocket, Morales began filming his donation videos in August 2020 by handing the tip to a local street vendor in San Diego and recording his reaction. The vendor was in complete shock and fell to his knees and thanked him. "In that moment, (with) the way he reacted, I just knew I wanted to do it over and over again," Morales said. From there, he started driving around San Diego in search of more vendors to support.
Morales recalls how his family taught him the power of giving from an early age. His parents, who immigrated to the U.S. from San Luis Potosí, Mexico, took service and auto industry jobs with the goal of working their way up and achieving the American dream. Despite the hardships, Morales remembers how his family still managed to visit their homeland every year and bring boxes of unused clothes and other items to those in need.
"They always had someone they could give things to," Morales explains. "So and so could use this, so and so could use that. I think that’s where the inspiration (to give) came from."
As the views on his tip videos began to rise, the more and more people began to donate directly to Morales though the Venmo and CashApp linked in his social media bios. Gradually, $100 tips turned into $200, then $500 and eventually the donations snowballed into the $1,000 the tips are today.
Morales then realized he could support more people in Los Angeles where street vendors are more common. Now, he typically takes trips to LA, driving around different neighborhoods to see who he can tip. His followers will often leave comments on his videos suggesting locations or specific vendors he should visit, and while Morales tries his best to help where he can, he still prefers to tip vendors at random. Often, this means that he never sees the same vendor twice.
"It’s just, you’re a stranger, I’m a stranger and we meet each other in this moment," Morales explained.
But one instance that particularly stuck with him was with a fruit vender he noticed on the side of a busy street one evening. Morales got out of his car, ordered something and handed him the donation. Filled with gratitude, the vendor grabbed Morales’ shoulder, bowed his head and began praying.
"It was just a timeless moment I just had to soak in. Those words he was saying were just so powerful," said Morales. "He was praying for me and my family and everyone who contributed. (They were) words I’ll never forget."
But, Morales explained, not all reactions are the same. He still encounters vendors that are skeptical about why they’re receiving such a large tip, which is why he takes the time to explain how the money is crowdfunded online from supportive strangers.
"It goes to show how humble and hardworking street vendors are and it speaks volumes about the Latino and Hispanic community," Morales said.
Transparency is one of the main reasons he believes that his initiative has become so successful. People can see the money being physically handed to someone and their immediate reactions in his videos. But above all, the safety and dignity of the person who receives the tip is his main priority. That’s why Morales never shows the vendors' faces. He explains that most people don’t understand the hardships street vendors go through, especially when experiencing theft or facing harassment from people who want to cause them harm.
"Every vendor sells with a purpose. I just want people to know that these are real lives, these are real human beings who are just trying to make an honest living," he added. "If you can leave a tip, $2, $3, anything, it helps. At the end of the day, you’re supporting a hardworking individual that may be working to support their family or (pay off) bills."
Morales dreams to one day travel across the U.S. handing out donations in different cities. But at the moment, he is taking the process of receiving and handing out donations day by day.
"Who knows (what will happen)," he continued. "This just started about a year ago and I am incredibly blessed and thankful that we’ve received so much support to this day. I can only imagine what we can do in another year."