06/26/12 8:30 PM ET
'Angel in Queens' gets HOPE Week visit
By Ethan Asofsky / MLB.com
Every week, Munoz drives to the store in his white pickup truck and gets roughly $1,300 worth of ingredients for a variety of meals, which he pays for with unemployment checks, part of his sister's salary from her job at the Social Security office and a few scarce private donations. Then, Munoz and his family get to work, cooking for five hours every day to serve the crowds of hungry New Yorkers that wait for him at 9:30 p.m. underneath the elevated tracks at the 74th Street, Roosevelt Avenue subway stop in Jackson Heights, N.Y.
Munoz has done this for the last eight years, and over that stretch, he has missed only one snow-filled winter day, when he couldn't move his truck from his driveway. The crowd was left waiting for him hungry.
Munoz doesn't have a job and lives with his mother, sister and nephew. His former employer -- a bus company that hired him as a driver -- laid him off in December. Funds for his family's personal well-being are tight, but that has never been a concern for the 48-year-old or his loved ones. Munoz is a giver.
But with donations slowing to a crawl and Munoz without a steady income since the start of the year, the family hasn't received much help of late. That is, until Tuesday, when the Yankees made Munoz the subject of the second day of HOPE week (Helping Others Persevere and Excel), their five-day community outreach initiative. The team surprised the family with a $10,000 check, four pinstriped helpers in the kitchen and swarms of New York media to bring attention to Munoz's cause.
"For the Major Leaguers to be here is a great honor," Munoz said. "Being here is a good point that they are with the mission. They know what we are doing here, and they know this is for helping people in need. This is for homeless people who have to choose whether to pay for rent or pay for food, so they line up for food."
Munoz jumped out of his pickup truck on Tuesday morning and immediately noticed the cameras waiting in front of his house. He received national attention for his work when President Barack Obama honored him in 2010 and when CNN and the New York Times published stories on his work in the community, but nothing compared to Tuesday, when media members filled his driveway waiting for a shot of the "Angel in Queens."
With Munoz still confused by why the local media was suddenly fascinated with his charity and visiting his home, it finally clicked. A smile cracked his face as he grabbed the shoulders of his nephew. Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Boone Logan and Hiroki Kuroda marched into the driveway with bags of rice draped over their shoulders and bottles of oil in their hands, making their way through the group of reporters to shake Munoz's hand.
"The average American doesn't even cook a meal every day," Logan said. "For him to cook for that many people every day is just remarkable. It lets the world know kind of how it should be. It's not about greed. He's caring about other people in the world and not himself. It seems like he doesn't even think about himself, just what he's doing."
The players did their best to assist Munoz and his family in the kitchen, cutting potatoes and preparing the ingredients for Tuesday's menu, which included lentils with Colombian sausage and white rice. After some of the food was prepared, the Yankees presented Munoz's organization, "An Angel in Queens," with a giant check and Delta Airlines gave the native of Colombia two round-trip tickets to visit his home country.
The Yankees also invited Munoz to attend Tuesday's game against the Indians in the Bronx, where he watched batting practice from the field and threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Munoz and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman left the game early to pass out meals to the usual crowd in Jackson Heights.
"There's no way I could cook for more than five people, and he's able to cook for multiple amounts of people," Granderson said. "Groups of people are lined up waiting for him to come every night. Even tonight, he's going to be rushing out after the game to hurry back and get people fed."
Munoz started his work in May 2004, when he was still working as a bus driver. While he was dropping children off at a summer camp on Long Island, Munoz saw two men across the street who worked at a food processing plant for airplanes throwing unused meals into a dumpster. Munoz asked if he could take the food and give it to someone who needed it.
A few days later, Munoz was driving in Jackson Heights -- a predominantly Colombian neighborhood -- to pick up some authentic food for his family. He noticed a group of people gathered underneath the elevated subway tracks and asked why they were standing around. One man replied that they were waiting for contracting work.
"He said, 'We are the laborers. If we get a job today, we have money to eat. If we don't get a job, we don't know,'" Munoz said. "I said, 'OK, can you wait for me tomorrow? I'll bring some food for you.' The first week I started with eight people, and then 26, and more and more and more."
Munoz credits his mother, Blanca, as his inspiration for bringing food to the unemployed, hungry and homeless. She moved her 10-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter, Luz, to the United States in 1984 and taught them everything she knew about cooking. With the help he received from the Yankees on Tuesday, Munoz can continue to use Blanca's traditions to help fight hunger in New York for the foreseeable future.
"There are so many reactions," Munoz said. "They say, 'Thank you so much; we hope you'll be here tomorrow.' Sometimes when it's raining or snowing, they have no job, so they expect me there. I always tell them, 'I'll be there tomorrow. I'll be there.'"
Ethan Asofsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.