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The Work of Angels

Colombian immigrant Jorge Muñoz has distributed more than 120,000 home-cooked meals to out-of-work New Yorkers over the past five years.

"Another couple asked Muñoz what he’d most like them to donate. He told them he wanted to ease the heavy burden of daily cooking on his mother, who is 68 and struggles with arthritis and osteoporosis. So the couple hired a woman who now does most of the cooking. Zapata still lends a hand, planning the weekly menus and supervising the preparation.

"My mother is my inspiration," Muñoz says. "She always told us to share, even if we had one toy, one piece of bread. She said if you have something, share it with someone who has nothing.

"Zapata, who left Colombia in the 1980s in search of a better life for her children after she was widowed, gets emotional upon hearing how her son describes her influence on him. "I’m very proud of my son," Zapata says. "I’ve always shared everything; in my mind, I’m not the sole owner of anything. Today it’s these poor people on the corner who are in need. Tomorrow it can be any of us."

Clearly, Muñoz says, brown bags of donated snacks weren’t enough. He and his mother, Doris Zapata, and sister, Luz, joined together to provide the immigrants hot meals every night. After work, around 5 p.m., Muñoz would buy the ingredients and pick up food donations. Zapata and Luz, both of whom lived with Muñoz in an apartment in Queens, would cook. Then Muñoz would deliver the meals.

Muñoz’s apartment has turned into a storage facility. Food donated and bought in bulk takes up considerable space, and extra freezers and refrigerators hold perishable items. Donations—both monetary and food—ebb and flow, Muñoz says, sometimes making it harder to carry on, but never impossible. Muñoz often has used half his weekly salary to cover the cost of gas, ingredients, packaging material, and serving implements."

After CNN did the segment on what I do, there was a burst of donations," he says. "But that dried up. Then you’ll get more, and it stops. It’s not a steady stream that I can count on." Muñoz, though, focuses on the help he does get and speaks with near glee about it.

He mentions the former day laborers who have found steady work and now help prepare and distribute meals on the corner where they once stood waiting for Muñoz every night.

"I was like them," recalls Fausto Castillo, a 23-year-old Mexican immigrant, as he helps Muñoz hand out iced tea and meals. "I got laid off last winter, I couldn’t pay rent, and I was out on the street, homeless, for about a week. I heard about him, that you could come here and eat. He helped me find work, and now I’m making it and want to help—I help with the cooking, too, sometimes—because I know the suffering, the desperation.

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