Jorge Muñoz's 2004 encounter with homeless day laborers sounds like the pivotal moment in the latest feel-good movie. But the “Angel in Queens” wouldn't be providing up to 140 meals nightly if the need in their words didn't resonate with him: “If we have a job, we will get money to eat tonight; if not, we don't eat anything.”
Not long before that chance meeting Muñoz, a naturalized immigrant from Columbia, had a conversation with people in the food industry who talked about how much food was routinely thrown away. Those incidents provided the spark that ignited a personal crusade to get food that would normally be wasted to people in need.
That first night, Muñoz relayed the story to his mother, Doris Zapata, and they made eight brown bag sandwiches for the men waiting under the subway tracks. Eight years later, his nonprofit An Angel in Queens feeds as many as 140 individuals in Jackson Heights seven nights a week, with no breaks for holidays or weather.
“My mom is my hero,” said Muñoz. “From my childhood, she taught me to share my toys or whatever I have extra. Sharing was the main thing. For me it's easy, for other people, maybe not. But for my mom, my sister and me, it is the easiest way to help somebody.”
Muñoz's life revolves around the project, and everything happens in their apartment, which has several refrigerators along its walls and a small kitchen that is lined with cans and sacks of dried food.
On a typical day, Muñoz wakes at 6 a.m. and takes his sister's son to school before heading to Costco or BJ's to buy food and supplies for the day. Then he makes the rounds of local businesses that provide the donations to create balanced meals like chicken with rice, beef with pasta, or pork with beans.
The process takes about five hours from start to finish before he loads his pickup truck at 7 p.m. After he attends evening church services with his mother, Muñoz heads to his regular spot where he hands out meals at 9:30 p.m.
Muñoz worked as a bus driver before he was laid off, and he would spend about half of his $700 weekly salary on food and supplies. He now uses his unemployment check to continue funding the charity.
“Winter, summer, they are waiting for me every night,” Muñoz said. “When you hand a meal to a guy who has been waiting for a half an hour in anything from 10 degrees to 100 degrees and he says, ‘God bless you,' that's when you know you're doing something good.”
Muñoz doesn't have much time outside of his charity, but he has started classes at Queensborough Community College with an eye toward a degree Business Administration. Still, Muñoz has no plans to stop serving others and wishes others did the same.
“If all of us shared a little more,” he said, “then no one would go hungry each night.”
Now in its fourth year, the New York Yankees HOPE Week recognizes individuals and organizations whose acts of goodwill provide hope and encouragement to the community. Honorees are surprised by Yankee players and staff, and attend the night's game as guests of the team.
The Corporation for National and Community Service partners with the New York Yankees to present each HOPE Week honoree with the President's Volunteer Service Award. The Yankees and CNCS hope the honorees' stories send the message that everyone can serve to make their community a better place.
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