Courtesy of Jorge Muñoz
With the help of his family, Jorge Muñoz has spent the last 16 years cooking hot meals for day laborers looking for work on the sidewalks of Queens, N.Y.
Since he was young, Jorge has looked for ways to put food in the hands of those who needed it, as his sister, Luz, recalled in an interview for StoryCorps last week.
“I remember one day we were having lunch, somebody knock on the door. Mommy get up and see who it was,” Luz told him. “She came back and said, ‘There’s a guy asking for something to eat.’ And you, Jorgie, you just get up and give them your meal. You were seven.” Jorge said he and his sister inherited that mindset from their mother, Blanca Doris Zapata, who worked as a housekeeper.
“She says, ‘We have a home, food to eat, but some of them, they don’t have nothing, so just share,’ ” Jorge said of his mother.
“We don’t have a lot of money,” Luz said. “We sleep all of us in one room: Mommy, you and me. And it was hard like having sometimes one meal, two meals a day.”
When the siblings got jobs, they were better able to support themselves and each other. Jorge found full-time work as a school bus driver. Not long after, Jorge noticed some day laborers waiting to get picked up to do work.
“It was raining and they have no job that day to buy food. So I tell them I have some food at home,” he said. That’s how the idea to cook for day laborers was sparked.
Jorge asked Luz what she thought when he came to her with his ambitious plan to cook for others.
“Oh, you are crazy,” Luz said. “No, I’m kidding. I was happy because we can help you. Mom was doing the rice, I was chopping the onions and you were doing tomatoes. I mean, the kitchen was small for us, but we were together.”
It’s estimated that Jorge and his family helped prepare 500,000 meals since starting the meal program in 2004, but the Muñozes’ meal program came to a halt in May due to the pandemic.
Law enforcement expressed concerns with a lack of social distancing and face masks as people gathered, and Jorge’s doctor warned him of the risk to his own health. He had already suffered from cancer, a heart attack and diabetes. At that point, he knew he had to stop.
Once Jorge stopped the program, he found a few organizations in a Queens neighborhood that were set up to give out free food to help the workers.
The pandemic may have forced him to take a break for now, but Jorge is counting the days until he can go back to feeding those in need in his community.
He told Luz that he feels good about what they’ve accomplished with their food program.
“You do not need to be rich to feel what I feel, just willing to do it,” he said. “At the end of the day, when you hand them a meal and you see that smile in their faces, that smile pays for everything.”
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Eleanor Vassili. NPR’s Emma Bowman adapted the interview for the Web.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.