Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Light One Candle
About an angel in Queens

by Dennis Heaney

(From the Jan. 17, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Dennis Heaney How do you keep the Christmas spirit going? Well, for one thing, you could follow the lead of Jorge Muñoz, who works at it 365 days a year. You’d have to match Muñoz’ dedication, though, and that strikes me as a tall order indeed.

What Muñoz does is simple enough in the telling: he provides free hot meals every night for about 35 immigrants, most of them homeless, on the streets of the New York City borough of Queens. What’s more, he and his mother and sister cook all the meals themselves, and they do it with no money coming in from the outside, and just a handful of gifts of food and supplies.

Simple in the telling, as I said, but arduous in the undertaking. Muñoz does what he does because he saw a need and knew that he could answer it.

“This is not politics,” one of the homeless men said in halting English. “He does this because he has a sweet heart.”

I read about Jorge Muñoz in a story by Adam Ellick in The New York Times. It was headed “An Angel in Queens,” and that’s surely what Muñoz must seem like to his nightly dinner guests. “I had nothing to eat at all for three days,” one of them said, smiling at his good fortune.

“That smile,” Muñoz said. “That’s the way I get paid.”

Muñoz, 43, lives in a comfortable home in the Woodhaven section of Queens, along with his mother and sister. He has a good steady job now, driving a school bus, and he’s an American citizen. But back in 1986 he was without work himself, an immigrant recently arrived from Colombia. The memory of how he felt then came back to him one night three years ago, when he saw the homeless men standing on a corner in Jackson Heights.

“When I saw these guys in the street I thought, ‘It’s like me 20 years ago.’ I told them, ‘Just wait for me here every night. I’ll bring you something to eat, I promise.’”

True to his word, he showed up the next night, with enough hot meals for everybody. And the next night, and the night after that, and night after night for three years now – without skipping a beat.

The project takes time, talent and careful planning. It starts each day at 4:45 a.m., when Muñoz begins cooking – on the day the Times reporter visited, a Colombian specialty built around pork, rice and potatoes. The family pitches in when Muñoz goes off to work, and when he gets home it’s time to re-heat everything, pack it all in Styrofoam containers, with bread on the side and coffee to top things off. Then it’s loaded in his van, and Muñoz is off to Jackson Heights.

Every room in the Muñoz house is full of supplies, and the work goes on with no thought of weekends or holidays. What’s the budget for this operation? Muñoz laughs. “We never give expenses a thought. We’d get scared if we started to add them up.”

Everything Muñoz does lives out the Christopher message at street level. He’s lighting a candle for each man he feeds, making a difference – for real – in their lives. And he does it all with no regard for the cost.

“I feel great, man,” he told the reporter as they said goodbye. “That’s my payback.”

(Dennis Heaney is Director of The Christophers, an organization dedicated to the proposition that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. For a free copy of the Christopher News Note “Your Good Example Makes a Difference,” write to: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail:

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