July 30, 2009

An Angel In Queens, New York: School Bus Driver Responsible For 70,000 Hot Meals And Counting...(Video)

I am humbled.

I met a real life Angel recently. His name is Jorge Munoz and he lives in Queens, New York.

This is not just a story about a man who has spent the last few years tirelessly cooking, packing and giving free, hot meals to hungry people every day under a subway stop -- some 70,000 in total.

It's a lesson about compassion for people and humanity. It's also about how one 46-year-old school bus driver, was moved to take action in a selfless and big way. Munoz says he found his passion and path in service after choosing to stop turning his cheek to a growing problem, so prevalent in his neighborhood, and so many other communities across America.

Munoz says he spends more than half of his salary, of roughly $700 per week, buying food from local grocery stores. Every night, for the past four years, Munoz comes home from work, takes a quick coffee break, then heads out to diligently collect food donations from the community and then shops for more groceries. He heads home to meet a team, consisting of his mother, sister, 5-year-old nephew and a friend. Together, they are a well-oiled machine, as they multiply whatever they're having for dinner into, by 120 to 140 home cooked meals, carefully packed with love and care in his tiny kitchen, in his shoe-box size flat.

His living room looks more like a pantry, filled with fresh food, parceled out, and ready to be cooked. There are even bags of clothes and blankets, cleaned and ready to be given out. His stove, isn't fully operating anymore because it's been overused to cook food in bulk. Because the stove is broken, he carries huge restaurant sized vats of food up to his sister's apartment to cook-- just so he can make his daily deadline. "They depend on me," says Munoz. Even with an injured back, he never once complains about the love and labor he puts into his daily routine of service.

9 p.m. It's time to pack his white Toyota pickup truck with coolers full of hot drinks and food and hit the road.

Every single night at 9:30 p.m., for the past four years, Munoz and his family have been repeating this routine, which he calls his "second job" every day, except one. With furrowed brows and a disappointed frown on his face, Munoz regretfully admits, he did miss one day -- The food and drinks were packed, but a snowstorm shut down all lines of transportation. " He says with disappointment. "The subway and buses all closed, we couldn't get to them."

Why would anyone spend most their free time and energy putting so much love in home cooked meals for strangers on the street? Arguably, some people wouldn't don't even do this for their significant others -- But that's another blog topic altogether.

Words can't really describe why Munoz so unselfishly does what he does. He just does. You just have to be there to experience it. But when you're there, watching him do his work, at the gritty Roosevelt Avenue subway stop, you begin to understand why.

Sarah Mirza, (who at the time was an unemployed TV producer who I invited to come along on the shoot) and I hopped on the subway to meet Munoz and his small team at the subway stop, where a line quickly multiplied... from 7, 14, 20... then a crowd of over a hundred neatly and politely lined up. Meanwhile, many passersby clutched their purses when walking by this group of people waiting for food. When Munoz first started this project approximately four years ago, he says there were only eight people. Then there were 24, and today, the crowd has grown to nearly 150 people because of the down economy.

When Munoz's truck pulls up, the melancholy, stoic, troubled looks on their faces brightened. (I'm tearing up as I write this and recall the moment.)

And wow, the smiles. The expressions on their faces reminded me of when family and old friends have just been reunited at the airport, after not seeing each other for a long period of time. "The smiles on their faces, when see they got something to eat....aaaaah, [We're] feeding [more than] a hundred people," Munoz says passionately. "If you change the life of one guy, that's enough..."

Munoz says the idea came to him one day, when waiting to pick up his students at a routine school bus stop. "I saw people throwing away food at a food factory," he says adamantly, "I thought, why are they throwing that away? I can give those to the hungry people I see on the street everyday." He asked if he could pick up the perfectly fresh food and take it to the hungry strangers, he's seen everyday. Strangers whose faces became so familiar.

Munoz says, the inspiration came from, "God and my Mom. Since I was little, my mom teach me to share, and that's what we're doing here." Although Munoz isn't getting paid for this second job (remember, he actually has to use own money to do this), he seems so happy in service -- Just by the tone in his voice, you can feel his passion for compassion. His eagerness to serve brings him joy. He says he's happy to have a paying job, so he can continue doing this. "You have to see their smiles, on their faces. When they smile, I always say that's how I get paid."

I was moved so much by this story that I teared up as I wrote the preceding paragraphs --And let's be real-- I cried many times during this assignment. After the interview, I fought back tears and told Munoz, I was humbled (goosebumps and all) to be interviewing him, to be sitting in the same room with him, a true angel. I wept while editing the video and I'm wiping away tears now, as I write this blog.

You see, I once utterly disliked homeless and hungry people. I was angry and didn't understand their trials and tribulations. I didn't understand or care to fathom their stories. I was jaded by several experiences where I would give food to a hungry person some food, just to be turned away by the good gesture and instead being asked for money. I would think, I come from an immigrant background, my family and I worked hard and pulled ourselves up from the bootstraps. They're able bodied, why don't they work?

But it wasn't until I've interviewed some homeless people on the street and spent the day with folks in the Tent city encampments, that I started seeing a shift in my perception. What a great payoff and life lesson I learned. I realized that they too, had -- and have-- hopes, fears and dreams just like we do. Some fall on bad times, I realized, just alike I have. The difference? I have an amazing support system; Thanks to my family and friends. A social worker also told me one of her homeless clients was a doctor, his wife a lawyer. He became homeless and lost everything, when his wife was killed in a car accident on the way home from work, he lost it," my friend explained.

Some cynics say they believe the old Chinese proverb, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." Although I agree with this old adage, I also believe in this comment, from one of my blogger readers, "Yeah, but the fisherman [or fisherwoman] has to eat while fishing, don't they?" This blog is about compassion. If you can teach someone how to cast that net and catch fish, great. If you can't, think about what you can do. Think about what resources and talents you may have and what you can do to help someone else in need and improve his/her life. I urge you to do something to better your community.

Remember, as my last blog, about phenomenal 5-year-old Phoebe proves, it doesn't have to be BIG. She saw a problem and wanted to help hungry people in her community. So she held a can recycling campaign and to everyone's amazement, she raised enough money to feed nearly 18,000 people.

A quick story and kudos to my 4-year-old nephew Drew, better known as cutiepatootie, for his compassion. Last week, my brother, Phat, took Drew out for ice cream at Gunthers (one of my local favorite mom-and-pops ice-cream shops in Sacramento.) Being the spoiling uncle that he is (OK, I spoil him too, but that's my job right?), my brother bought Drew two mini ice cream cones. Drew ate happily, ice cream dripping down the mouth and all. But his smiling face turn sad when he looked outside the window and saw a little girl crying.

"Oh no!" Drew said, "Why is she crying?"

Phat said, "I don't know, maybe she's sad or doesn't have a cone?"

"With an a-ha, split second moment, Drew quickly said, "I know what! I have another ice cream, can I give it to her?"

Phat said, "Do you want to give it to her?"

With no hesitation, "Drew said, "Yes."

He walked outside, patting the weeping girl on the shoulder, "Don't cry little girl," he said, "I have an ice cream for you." The girl smiled and so did Drew! I was so proud of Drew for sharing and caring.

Again, this is not about hand outs, giving people food, but rather a passion for compassion. Wouldn't the world be better place if we all planted the seed early and had more people who are aware? When Drew was a baby, I remember asking my sister Lynn, what she wanted Drew to be when he grows up. Lynn replied, "I don't really care what he chooses to be, as long as he is a compassionate human being." And compassionate he is.

Perhaps Mother Teresa's quote sums it up best, "If you judge people, you don't have time to love them."

When I created my inspirational website: www.GoInspireGo.com I knew I wanted to help people. What I didn't realize was how much this project would help me understand people and humanity while connecting with them. As I embark on this new journey of my career-- or should I say, my life's work?! -- I have met so many amazing people from; the subjects of my stories to volunteers to those of you reading this right now. I saw a shift in myself and have witnessed the amazing changes in others joining me on this journey of service and inspiration.

Take Sarah Mirza, the amazingly talented producer who collaborated with me on this video shoot, Sarah says after getting laid off of her TV gig, like the millions of other jobless Americans, it was hard to be inspired to even get out of bed in the morning, much less, garnering the strength to send out resumes. When I invited her to join me on producing this video, she was stoked! After the shoot, she texted and then called me to tell me, with caps lock and smiley icon ;) "THANK YOU," for the opportunity to collaborate with you on this story. I couldn't sleep the last few nights, in anticipation of meeting Jorge and doing this shoot."

This experience was cathartic -- Sarah's perspective changed. And it was obvious, she was inspired. You could hear it in her voice. She told me that it was one of the most rewarding experiences and that this was one of the most moving stories she has ever covered in her career. Sarah also said she then, took "laycation." (What I like to call laid-off vacation or lay-off me time) Then she and came back inspired to get out of bed and look for jobs. Well, she recently called me and told me she got a Network TV producing job! Woo hoo... congrats Sarah!


Speaking about service, I connected with Arianna Huffington, during the last Craigslist Bootcamp workshop in Berkeley, California. She was the guest speaker - and I was volunteering for the event -- I was fortunate enough to listen to Arianna speak about the spirit of service, and I was moved by her stories of volunteerism and goodwill. I emailed her. She then invited me to blog for her based on my website, which uses Social Networking to Inspire Social Change: www.GoInspireGo.com. And voila... here I am, sharing inspiring stories with you. So I want you to stop for a second, take a deep breaths (or a couple) and be aware of the present moment. Be grateful. Then, I want you to think about what you can do to improve someone else's life. It doesn't have to start off big. If you read my last blog about 5-year-old Phoebe's mission, you'll see that it really doesn't have to be a something big -- it can start off small. And like Phoebe, you may be surprised of the outcome. (If you didn't read it from my last blog. Please do.)

If you can't think of what you can do, then please make a small donation to www.AnAngelInQueens.org - someone saw Munoz's good deed and helped him file for papers to start a non-profit. Still he has to use his own money to feed people in his community. You can also make a donation to www.GoInspireGo.com. For now, Be good to each other... and think what can you do?!

We love to hear your quirky and not-so-quirky comments, so please make a comment below. Thanks for reading and watching! Stay tuned...


The Mission: To set up a global platform for people to see and share inspirational stories. (There's a link at the end of every story where people could go to help the person/people featured in the video)

The Vision: My hope is that everybody will be inspired to use their resources and talents to see what they can do to better someone's life or better their community.

I launched this website in March of 2009, with the thought that if I could just help one or two people through my expertise and skill set, then my mission would be accomplished. I didn't expect such a huge show of support around the world. I surely wasn't ready for the influx of e-mails, messages, comments and calls to come in: Viewers continue to connect with us from around the world (including: North and South America, Asia, Europe and Africa) to tell us they're doing to better someone else's life or improve their community.

Onward and upward,

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Join our movement & Go Inspire Go

Go Inspire Go Goes Global, Rolling out weekly GIG blogs for Huffington Post & Thank You!

Wow, this week has been full of surprises.

After being invited to be a regular blogger by the Huffington Post (Living Section) people around the world started linking to the blog and video; India, Hong Kong, Sweden...

My first blog was about 5-year-old Phoebe, from San Francisco. Her compassion for homeless and hungry people in her community sparked a project. Her goal= to raise 1,000 for the SF Food Bank in 2 months. Her goal was exceeded and she ended up feeding more than 18,000 people!!! Check out our video:

Here's a quick update from the SF Food Bank:
***So far, According to the SF Food Bank, they've received $492 from 14 donors who have either gone in through the Phoebe Fund link on our homepage or made a donation in tribute to Phoebe!
Also, they"ve had donations from LA, MI, MA, SC, MN and other areas outside of CA, since our story went life here on the Huff!

So awesome! Way to go everyone and Phoebe! ***

The blog quickly became one of the top 5 on the whole website, then the media caught on and our video went viral! Thousands of hits and comments/videos/etc., ensued...

We've been getting emails and nods from around the globe! Awesome!

This is the affirmation the GIG team and the media and world needed. When I started this project, last March, I thought, if I could just help one person, or a hand full of people in my community, then the project would've been a success in my eyes. So it brings tears to my eyes that this project went global, thanks everyone for sharing and please continue to:

1.) Share the videos and website www.GoInspireGo.com
2.) Bookmark or link to our site
3.) Make a small donation via PayPal acct. on the front page of our website!

*Meanwhile, I just finished my 2nd Blog, about an amazing real life angel in New York. Stay tuned...

GO Inspire GO Press


Alyssa Milano tweeted us:
@Alyssa_Milano (aka "Phoebe Halliwell", the SF witch from Charmed - the irony!)
RT'd the story to her followers...all 135,000+
Alyssa Milano (Look for July 27th posts)

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July 23, 2009

Arianna Huffington's E-mail to www.GoInspireGo.com

It was July 21, 2009, exactly 11:09 a.m. when I got this e-mail from Arianna Huffington:

Hi Toan, this is wonderful. We would love for you to blog about it. I'm Ccing our Living Editor, Alana Kornfeld and our Editor-at-Large, Russell Bishop to coordinate. All the best, Arianna


Speechless. Excitement! Deep breaths...Ohmmmm. Oh my gosh. Wow! I am speechless.

Did Arianna Huffington really just e-mail to ask me to be a featured blogger for the "Living" section of her amazingly popular site www.Huffingtonpost.com?! Cell phone, where is it? Ok, let me call... oh wait, there's a message from Russell, her Editor-in-Chief.

Is this for real? Ok, now that I am a little less numb and the shock of madame bloggers-sphere-mania is settling in, I need to gain composure and call Russell back. I think to myself, okay, do I call after I walk home from my meeting in downtown San Francisco? Or do I call him while out of breath, with the screaming sirens, traffic and the pitter-patter of several hundreds of people walking around the busy streets of SF, or should I wait until after I get home, or perhaps, while walking back to my apartment? I chose the latter and between walking up and down the San Francisco hills (and they're craaazy), the humming sound of a busy metropolis that is San Francisco and the excitement, I probably sounded like a baffling buffoon. But an excited, passionate buffoon, nonetheless. Even with about 10 years of experience reporting for the local news, I thought I'd be able to regain composure and "calm myself" before the call -- but that went out the door, didn't it?! I was so exhilarated to get the invite, the nod, whatever, from Arianna, and to get the call from Russell.

Exuberant, not only because 'The' Arianna Huffington invited me to write a blog on her site, but also because I was never acknowledged or rewarded as a child, for being a voracious reader and writer. Growing up in a rough part of Sacramento, I never felt validated for my communication skills; as a reader, writer, or orator, for whatever reason, be it cross-cultural, generational, socio-economical etc., -- that's another blog post all in itself. It wasn't until I went to the University of San Francisco and majored in print journalism that I got the "thumbs up" and compliments for my writing from my former college literature teacher Carolyn Weber and former journalism professor Michael Robertson. The validation was GOLDEN. I finally thought, for once in my life, that I may have a career in journalism! I always followed my instinct. OK, enough of walking nostalgically down memory lane...

Time to get working.

What will I blog about? Yeah, Russell told me the guidelines and I knew it was about a story on my website www.GoInspireGo.com, but... OK focus. If you could see my thoughts painted out onto a canvas, my brainwaves, my thoughts would look much like a fuzzy TV set with "jankity" rabbit ear antennas = no clear picture.

What did I decide to write about and why?

I started banging on my keyboard on my little MacBook Pro laptop, and started writing about the latest story, about a little five-year-old girl, who was moved after seeing a homeless person begging for food on the streets of San Francisco. So, she's setting out to try and solve the hunger problem in her community. One may scoff at such an overwhelming, seemingly insurmountable, lofty goal, but the only one(s) that may look foolish in the end, are the one(s) who doubt the power of a compassionate spirit. Phoebe saw a hungry person on the street, holding a cardboard sign, and asked her mother, about it, was sad, and wanted to help the way she knew best, collecting cans. She knew, through weekend trips with her dad and sister to recycle cans for cash, that she could earn money to give to the food bank to help feed hungry people.

Her goal, was to raise $1,000 in two months. Even her daycare teacher, who helped her draft letters asking for help, admits, "Caaans?" She thought it was too big of a goal, for young Phoebe, or any 5-year-old for that matter, but, like adults sometimes are, she was wrong.

Two months later...

Little Phoebe raised $3,336.30 to be exact. How many people will that feed? She'll tell you, 17,000-something. According to the food bank, that amount will feed 17,800 people! WOW! Go Phoebe!!!

Think that's amazing? I just got a call from the San Francisco Food Bank and more great news...

This five-year-old phenom, known as Phoebe, whose original goal two months ago (let me remind you) was to raise $1,000, just got another $1,000 matching donation! Her NEW total = $4,336.30! Hungry folks fed = 18,000+ WOW, congrats Phoebe!

Now, let me ask you, if a five-year-old can feed more than 18,000 hungry people... What can YOU do?!