I am humbled.
I met a real-life angel recently. His name is Jorge Munoz and he lives in Queens, New York.
This is not just a story about a man who has spent the last few years tirelessly cooking, packing and giving free, hot meals to hungry people every day under a subway stop — some 70,000 in total.
It’s a lesson about compassion for people and humanity. It’s also about how one 46-year-old school bus driver was moved to take action in a selfless and big way. Munoz said he found his passion and path in service after choosing to stop turning his cheek to a growing problem, so prevalent in his neighborhood, and so many other communities across America.
Munoz said he spends more than half of his salary, roughly $700 per week, buying food from local grocery stores. Every night for the past four years, Munoz comes home from work, takes a quick coffee break, then heads out to diligently collect food donations from the community and then shops for more groceries. He heads home to meet a team, consisting of his mother, sister, 5-year-old nephew and a friend. Together, they are a well-oiled machine, as they multiply whatever they’re having for dinner into, by 120 to 140 home-cooked meals, carefully packed with love and care in his tiny kitchen in his shoebox-size flat.
His living room looks more like a pantry, filled with fresh food, parceled out, and ready to be cooked. There are even bags of clothes and blankets, cleaned and ready to be given out. His stove isn’t fully operating anymore because it’s been overused to cook food in bulk. Because the stove is broken, he carries huge restaurant-sized vats of food up to his sister’s apartment to cook — just so he can make his daily deadline. “They depend on me,” said Munoz. Even with an injured back, he never once complained about the love and labor he puts into his daily routine of service.
At 9 p.m., it’s time to pack his white Toyota pickup truck with coolers full of hot drinks and food and hit the road.
Every single night at 9:30 p.m., for the past four years, Munoz and his family have been repeating this routine, which he calls his “second job” every day, except one. With furrowed brows and a disappointed frown on his face, Munoz regretfully admits he did miss one day — the food and drinks were packed, but a snowstorm shut down all lines of transportation. He said, with disappointment, “The subway and buses all closed. We couldn’t get to them.”
Why would anyone spend most their free time and energy putting so much love in home-cooked meals for strangers on the street? Arguably, some people wouldn’t don’t even do this for their significant others, but that’s another blog topic altogether.
Words can’t really describe why Munoz so unselfishly does what he does. He just does. You just have to be there to experience it. But when you’re there watching him do his work at the gritty Jackson Heights–Roosevelt Avenue/74th Street subway stop, you begin to understand why.
Sarah Mirza (who at the time was an unemployed TV producer I invited to come along on the shoot) and I hopped on the subway to meet Munoz and his small team at the subway stop, where a line of people quickly multiplied. Seven, 14, 20… then a crowd of more than a hundred neatly and politely lined up. Meanwhile, many passersby clutched their purses while walking by this group of people waiting for food. When Munoz first started this project approximately four years ago, he said there were only eight people. Then there were 24, and today, the crowd has grown to nearly 150 people because of the down economy.
When Munoz’s truck pulls up, the melancholy, stoic, troubled looks on their faces brightened (I’m tearing up as I write this and recall the moment).
And wow, the smiles. The expressions on their faces reminded me of when family and old friends have just been reunited at the airport, after not seeing each other for a long time. “The smiles on their faces, when see they got something to eat….aaaaah, [We’re] feeding [more than] a hundred people,” Munoz said passionately. “If you change the life of one guy, that’s enough…”
Munoz said the idea came to him one day while waiting to pick up his students at a routine school bus stop. “I saw people throwing away food at a food factory,” he said. “I thought, why are they throwing that away? I can give those to the hungry people I see on the street every day.”
He asked if he could pick up the perfectly fresh food and take it to the hungry strangers, he’s seen every day. Strangers whose faces have became so familiar.
Munoz said the inspiration came from “God and my Mom. Since I was little, my mom teach me to share, and that’s what we’re doing here.”
Although Munoz isn’t getting paid for this second job (remember, he actually has to use own money to do this), he seems so happy in service. Just by the tone of his voice, you can feel his passion for compassion. His eagerness to serve brings him joy. He said he’s happy to have a paying job, so he can continue doing this. “You have to see their smiles, on their faces. When they smile, I always say that’s how I get paid.”
I was moved so much by this story that I teared up as I wrote the preceding paragraphs. And let’s be real, I cried many times during this assignment. After the interview, I fought back tears and told Munoz I was humbled (goosebumps and all) to be interviewing him, to be sitting in the same room with him, a true angel. I wept while editing the video and I’m wiping away tears now, as I write this blog.
You see, I once utterly disliked homeless and hungry people. I was angry and didn’t understand their trials and tribulations. I didn’t understand or care to fathom their stories. I was jaded by several experiences in which I would give some food to a hungry person, just to be turned away and instead be asked for money. I would think, I come from an immigrant background, my family and I worked hard and pulled ourselves up from the bootstraps. They’re able-bodied, why don’t they work?
But it wasn’t until I interviewed some homeless people on the street and spent the day with folks in the tent city encampments, that I started seeing a shift in my perception. What a great payoff and life lesson I learned. I realized that they too, had — and have — hopes, fears and dreams just like we do. Some fall on bad times, I realized, just alike I have. The difference? I have an amazing support system, thanks to my family and friends. A social worker also told me one of her homeless clients was a doctor, his wife a lawyer. He became homeless and lost everything. When his wife was killed in a car accident on the way home from work, he lost it, my friend explained.
Some cynics say they believe the old Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Although I agree with this old adage, I also believe in this comment, from one of my blogger readers, “Yeah, but the fisherman [or fisherwoman] has to eat while fishing, don’t they?” This blog is about compassion. If you can teach someone how to cast that net and catch fish, great. If you can’t, think about what you can do. Think about what resources and talents you may have and what you can do to help someone else in need and improve his/her life. I urge you to do something to better your community.
Remember, as my last blog, about phenomenal 5-year-old Phoebe, proves, it doesn’t have to be BIG. She saw a problem and wanted to help hungry people in her community. So she held a can recycling campaign and to everyone’s amazement, she raised enough money to feed nearly 18,000 people.
A quick story and kudos to my 4-year-old nephew Drew, better known as “cutiepatootie,” for his compassion. Last week, my brother Phat took Drew out for ice cream at Gunther’s (one of my local favorite mom-and-pop ice cream shops in Sacramento.) Being the spoiling uncle that he is (OK, I spoil him too, but that’s my job right?), my brother bought Drew two mini ice cream cones. Drew ate happily, ice cream dripping down the mouth and all. But his smiling face turn sad when he looked outside the window and saw a little girl crying.
“Oh no!” Drew said, “Why is she crying?”
Phat said, “I don’t know, maybe she’s sad or doesn’t have a cone?”
Within an a-ha, split-second moment, Drew quickly said, “I know what! I have another ice cream, can I give it to her?”
Phat said, “Do you want to give it to her?”
With no hesitation, Drew said, “Yes.”
He walked outside, patting the weeping girl on the shoulder, “Don’t cry little girl,” he said, “I have an ice cream for you.” The girl smiled and so did Drew! I was so proud of Drew for sharing and caring.
Again, this is not about handouts, giving people food, but rather a passion for compassion. Wouldn’t the world be better place if we all planted the seed early and had more people who are aware? When Drew was a baby, I remember asking my sister Lynn what she wanted Drew to be when he grows up. Lynn replied, “I don’t really care what he chooses to be, as long as he is a compassionate human being.” And compassionate he is.
Perhaps Mother Teresa’s quote sums it up best, “If you judge people, you don’t have time to love them.”
When I created my inspirational website, GoInspireGo.com, I knew I wanted to help people. What I didn’t realize was how much this project would help me understand people and humanity while connecting with them. As I embark on this new journey of my career — or should I say, my life’s work?! — I have met so many amazing people from; the subjects of my stories to volunteers to those of you reading this right now. I saw a shift in myself and have witnessed the amazing changes in others joining me on this journey of service and inspiration.
Take Sarah Mirza, the amazingly talented producer who collaborated with me on this video shoot, Sarah said after getting laid off from her TV gig, like millions of other jobless Americans, it was hard to be inspired to get out of bed in the morning, much less garnering the strength to send out resumes. When I invited her to join me on producing this video, she was stoked! After the shoot, she texted and then called me to tell me, with caps lock and smiley icon 😉 “THANK YOU,” for the opportunity to collaborate with you on this story. I couldn’t sleep the last few nights, in anticipation of meeting Jorge and doing this shoot.”
This experience was cathartic — Sarah’s perspective changed. And it was obvious she was inspired. You could hear it in her voice. She told me it was one of the most rewarding experiences and that this was one of the most moving stories she has ever covered in her career. Sarah also said she then took a “laycation.” (What I like to call laid-off vacation or lay-off me time) Then she came back inspired to get out of bed and look for jobs. Well, she recently called me and told me she got a network TV producing job! Woo hoo… congrats, Sarah!
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Speaking about service, I connected with Arianna Huffington, during the last Craigslist Bootcamp workshop in Berkeley, Calif. She was the guest speaker and I was volunteering for the event. I was fortunate enough to listen to Arianna speak about the spirit of service, and I was moved by her stories of volunteerism and goodwill, so I emailed her. She then invited me to blog for her based on my website, which uses social networking to inspire social change. And voila… here I am, sharing inspiring stories with you.
So I want you to stop for a second, take a deep breath (or a couple) and be aware of the present moment. Be grateful. Then, I want you to think about what you can do to improve someone else’s life. It doesn’t have to start off big. If you read my last blog about 5-year-old Phoebe’s mission, you’ll see that it really doesn’t have to be a something big — it can start off small. And like Phoebe, you may be surprised of the outcome. (If you didn’t read it from my last blog. Please do.)
If you can’t think of what you can do, then please make a small donation to www.AnAngelInQueens.org. Someone saw Munoz’s good deed and helped him file paperwork to start a nonprofit. Still, he has to use his own money to feed people in his community. You can also make a donation to Go Inspire Go. For now, be good to each other and think what can you do?!
We love to hear your quirky and not-so-quirky comments, so please make a comment below. Thanks for reading and watching! Stay tuned…
GO INSPIRE GO’s Goals:
The Mission: To set up a global platform for people to see and share inspirational stories. (There’s a link at the end of every story where people could go to help the person/people featured in the video)
The Vision: My hope is that everybody will be inspired to use their resources and talents to see what they can do to better someone’s life or better their community.
I launched this website in March of 2009, with the thought that if I could just help one or two people through my expertise and skill set, then my mission would be accomplished. I didn’t expect such a huge show of support around the world. I surely wasn’t ready for the influx of e-mails, messages, comments and calls to come in. Viewers continue to connect with us from around the world, including North and South America, Asia, Europe and Africa, to tell us what they’re doing to better someone else’s life or improve their community.
Onward and upward,
–An Angel in New York (a continued series brought to you by Toan Lam)
–‘Surprise!’ An Angel In Queens Follow-Up, The Gift That Keeps On Giving
–Toan Lam Heads To New York
–A TRUE Angel In Queens, New York