An Angel in Queens

Jorge Muñoz: An Angel in Queens

Each weekday, starting at 7 in the morning and continuing until 7 at night, weary-looking men dressed in threadbare jackets and worn running shoes gather at the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street in Jackson Heights, Queens, under the gloomy shadow of the el. Swiveling their heads as if watching a tennis match, the men scan each passing car, in the hope that a driver will stop and offer up $100 in exchange for a 10-hour day of grueling labor on a construction or demolition project on Long Island.

But offers of work are few these days, and competition for jobs is intense. As winter approaches, a man can easily spend the entire day shivering and desperately hungry, because these day laborers, many of them from Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America, are not only poor immigrants in need of work; many are also homeless, or nearly. “We come here to look for work,” said a 47-year-old Ecuadorean named Carlos Suarez as he hugged a cheap leopard-print comforter that serves as his bed. “There is none. What can we do?”

Mr. Suarez says that he has sometimes gone days without eating and has on occasion survived only on bread. But for the past three months, he has eaten at least one hot meal a day, thanks to a former illegal immigrant who, with the help of his mother, has become a guardian angel for these workers. The man, Jorge Muñoz, is an elfin 43-year-old who goes by the nickname Colombia, a reference to the country from which he emigrated 21 years ago. Every night around 9:30, he arrives at the intersection from his home in Woodhaven, driving a white pickup truck laden with enough home-cooked fare to feed the dozens of day laborers who congregate there.

For many New Yorkers, Thanksgiving is a weekend to indulge in a brief stint of volunteerism at a church or soup kitchen. For Mr. Muñoz, the holiday is just another night devoted to feeding his unofficial flock. “Every single night, Jorge is here,” said one worker, his leathery face peering out from a hooded sweatshirt. “Doesn’t matter. Rain, thunderstorm, lightning. He do that from his good will, you know.” “He feeds everybody, make the stomach happy,” the worker added. “He’s an angel.” “He got no life,” his sister says. “But he got a big heart.”

When Mr. Muñoz’s truck pulled in, several workers pressed their faces to the tinted windows, hoping to catch a glimpse of dinner. Hopping into the back of the truck, Mr. Muñoz began untying steaming containers filled with hot chocolate and foil-covered trays of homemade barbecued chicken. As the workers accepted Styrofoam containers stuffed with hearty portions of chicken and rice, they thanked him as respectfully as if he were a parent, never mind that the 5-foot-2 Mr. Muñoz, with his buzz cut and boyish grin, could pass for 20-something.

God bless you,” one burly worker said as he dug into his meal. “I haven’t eaten in three days.” Mr. Muñoz replied with a smile, “You can eat here every day at 9:30.” The relationship between Mr. Muñoz and many of the men he feeds is personal. “Uribe, you want more coffee?” he asked as he saw a familiar face. “Simon, do you want seconds on this pasta?

In a way, Mr. Muñoz seems to need these men as much as they need him. His unofficial meal program gives meaning and focus to his life. He is as eager to help his motley clientele as they are to be helped. “I know these people are waiting for me,” he said of the emotions that fuel his quixotic and perhaps obsessive crusade. “And I worry about them. You have to see their smile, man. That’s the way I get paid.”

Jorge Muñoz: An Angel in Queens

Adam B. Ellick has written a much more detailed article about Jorge Muñoz in The New York Times, which interested readers can access here.
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