For the past 20 years, Connecticut resident Willie Ortiz has been selling scrap metal to pay for his expensive side hobby. He doesn't collect trains or race motorcycles; Ortiz feeds his community's homeless cats — all of them. And thanks to online fundraising, he will continue doing so for the rest of his days.
For the past two decades, 76-year-old Ortiz has made daily drives around Hartford and East Hartford, Connecticut, to bring food to homeless cats. He makes a couple of stops throughout the day and another round in the evening. All told, it takes him around three hours. He pays out of his own pocket for the food and gas, as well as any neutering and medical supplies he can afford.
Recently, a friend convinced him to put the power of social media to work by starting a GoFundMe page to help him defray some of his costs. Ortiz was hoping to raise $5,000. So far, he has raised more than $32,000.
Help from around the world
Ortiz's fundraising efforts got some initial help from exposure in the local newspaper the Hartford Courant, but when it was shared on Reddit, it took off, with donations suddenly hitting the page from all around the world.
"I thought it was a mistake at first; I had never seen anything in my life like that," said Kathleen Schlentz, a friend who set up the online fundraiser. "When I called Willie to tell him, he was practically in tears."
According to Schlentz, Ortiz had been feeding 68 cats in the Hartford and East Hartford communities every single day, regardless of the weather or his own health issues, for the past 22 years.
What does Ortiz plan to do with all of that money? Take care of the cats, of course. Ortiz says he will use the money to buy cat food, pay for medical supplies, and pay for spay and neutering surgeries at his local veterinarian. He's also hoping to pick up a cheap replacement for his 1988 Chevy Silverado with 200,000 miles on it that he currently uses to haul scrap metal.
Hopefully, if he does get a new truck, it will be one that the cats will soon learn to recognize.
"The cats come out when they hear the sound of my engine," Ortiz said. "They know my voice and they know the sound of my engine."