BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Jorge Muñoz—who is known in his community as a “real life angel”—migrated from Colombia in the 1980s with his mother and sister following the death of his father, unaware that he would fulfill the dreams of many of the less-fortunate people of his Jackson Heights community.
Like many immigrants, Muñoz worked minimum-wage jobs as a means of making a living to support his family after moving to the United States.
Shortly after graduating from New York’s College of Technology, Muñoz began work as a school bus driver and held that job for 10 years.
One day, Muñoz was driving underneath the elevated subway tracks at Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street when he stopped to speak with a group of day laborers. The men told Muñoz that during the day they stood in the spot and hoped that someone would drive by and offer them money for work—but the odds were slim and they often went hungry.
Shortly thereafter, Muñoz began to bring the men food as they reminded him of himself when he had first arrived in the country 20 years ago.
While he initially served approximately 140 meals per day to the homeless and unemployed, this quickly turned into more than 300,000 meals per day after his family became involved.
An Angel in Queens Foundation was founded in 2004 and Muñoz plans to continue his work in the community for years to come.
In 2010, former President Barack Obama awarded Muñoz with a Presidential Citizen Medal.
“What unites these citizens—what makes them special—is the determination they share to find a wrong and right it. To see a need and meet it. To recognize when others are suffering and take it upon themselves to make a difference,” Obama said at the time upon delivering the medal to Muñoz and 12 others. “These honorees’ lives stand as shining examples of what it means to be an American.”
During the New York Yankees’ Hope Week in 2012, the team honored Muñoz for his efforts to help his local community. To show their appreciation for Muñoz’s foundation, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Hiroki Kuroda and Boone Logan helped cook meals and distributed them in Jackson Heights. The Yankees also donated $10,000 to the foundation for food and materials.
Muñoz’s other recognitions include the Order of the Congress of Colombia in the Degree of Knight, which was awarded by the Senate of Colombia in recognition of his philanthropic efforts to help the Latino community in New York City; CNN’s 2009 Hero; the Colombian Independent Movement of Absolute Renovation (MIRA) political party’s medal for his community service in 2010; the National Council of La Raza Maclovio Barraza Award for Leadership in 2011; and the Medal Orden de Caballero from the Colombian Senate in 2012.
Muñoz said that he intends to expand his foundation to reach other homeless and unemployed New Yorkers who are struggling to have at least one meal per day.
Muñoz said that he is driven by knowing that people depend on him each day—whether it is food that he purchases and cooks with his family and friends or leftovers donated by local businesses. Muñoz said that he is determined to continue serving people in his community, regardless of their immigration and financial status or skin color.
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144, firstname.lastname@example.org or @reporter_ariel.