Every night in a New York Suburb, one man’s extraordinary focus, determination and selflessness brings hope to those who, aside from the certainty that he will arrive, haven’t any. This is the story of Jorge Muñoz; The Angel of Queens.
Winter is taking hold in New York and ice glazes its streets. A ragged group of men gather at night below the tracks of the Number 7 line at the intersection of Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street.
They wear heavy coats and beanies or hoods against the cold, rubbing their hands in threadbare gloves. They start to form a line along the pavement, occasionally peering into the night hoping to see a white pick-up truck.
The Jackson Heights neighbourhood in the borough of Queens, where the men gather, is home to many Asians and a large Latin American community. One of the latter is Colombian born Jorge Muñoz.
The men, now chatting among themselves as 9pm approaches, are waiting for Muñoz and the meal he has supplied to them every night since 2004.
The diminutive 48-year-old’s extraordinary commitment to less fortunate people in his neighbourhood has earned him the title The Angel of Queens. It started when he emerged from a pub one evening to see a group of “day labourers” – who depend on casual work on a day-by-day basis – on the streets.
Many of the day labourers were, like him, from Latin American countries and were homeless. Hunger was a constant in their lives.
Muñoz wondered: How do they afford food?
And thus began a train of thought that has fuelled Muñoz’s passion through the past 11 years and, certainly, into the future. Initially he talked local catering business owners into giving him so-called ‘waste food’ instead of discarding it.
He would distribute food whenever he could get hold of it, but soon wondered if he couldn’t be doing more.
He turned to his mother and sister for help with cooking and was soon handing out home-prepared meals from the back of his truck every evening.
The impact of these actions on his own life has been significant: “I haven’t seen a movie in two years,” he confessed to the New York Times. “But sometimes I listen to music when I’m driving.” His sister, cooking nearby, added: “He’s got no life!”
So why does he do it? “None of these people have work so without me they would have the simple choice: eat or pay the rent,” he told British newspaper The Independent.
“I know these people are waiting for me,” he said to the New York Times. “And I worry about them. You have to see their smile, man. That’s the way I get paid.”
Muñoz estimates that food and gas cost approximately 400 to 450 US Dollars a week; he and his family are funding the operation through their savings and his paycheck.
Two years after first launching the feeding scheme he formalised it into a non-profit organisation called An Angel in Queens.
Now he plans to return to Queensboro college to finish a degree in business administration, all the while continuing to feed the day labourers.
In all the time he has missed just one evening – when a snowstorm closed the streets. “I felt bad the next day because I went to the corner, and they said they were waiting for me,” Muñoz said. “I promised them I would never miss another day.”