Munoz funds this program by himself, earmarking roughly half of his $700-per-week paycheck for his unpaid "second job" of preparing food for strangers. In the course of his crusade, he has broken his stove and is using his sister's kitchen to keep up his strict delivery schedule.
The most fascinating thing about Munoz's story is the way that he interprets charity. While many religions stress the spiritual value of helping others, the religious concept of charity is often narrowly focused on those who share -- or are at least willing to entertain -- their religious beliefs.
In many ways, this idea flies directly in the face of Christian concepts of sharing. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus repeatedly breaks bread with tax collectors, prostitutes, foreigners, and other people considered untouchable within his society. But today, few consider the larger significance of these episodes: in Jesus's time, there were few acts more intimate than eating, and his eagerness to share his table with the dregs of humanity spoke volumes about his perspective on social equality.
In many ways, the same can be said of contemporary American society. After all, while tolerance and love are regarded as key societal virtues, the idea of inviting a prostitute, an IRS agent, and an al-Qaeda foot soldier to the family's Thanksgiving dinner would strike many as a way to get disinherited. So it's worth noting that Munoz's charity is not based in proselytizing or preaching. He's not attempting to convert Queens's many unfortunates; he simply seeks to feed them.
On a basic level, Munoz's decision to make dinner for 120 derelict strangers every night is not just kind; it constitutes an almost radical belief in shared humanity. Munoz doesn't make one meal for his family and another meal for charity. Instead, he makes 125-145 dinners every night, and serves 120 of them to people outside his household. In a very real way, he brings dozens of strangers into his home on a daily basis. In fact, he still speaks with regret of the one night in which bad weather made it impossible for him to share his food with others.
For the more cynical among us, Munoz's meals suggest some sort of atonement for sin or creative tax write off. In truth, however, his nightly cooking frenzy speaks to something far more revolutionary: the recognition that his fellow diners are, on a fundamental level, also human. From Munoz's perspective, the homeless in Queens deserve the same food, respect, and care that he deserves. And the fact that he intimately enlists his family in caring for all these people draws them still further into his personal circle. Munoz effectively has drawn his family closer together by projecting their love and energies outward.
As the recession swells the ranks of Queens's homeless, and ever-increasing numbers of people find themselves wondering where the next meal will come from, many people may be inspired to recoil from people in need. Whether out of fear that their bad luck may be contagious, or a subliminal recognition that the distance between success and homelessness may be only a couple of paychecks, it's all too easy to turn away from the needs of others. As Jorge Munoz demonstrates, however, the distance between the ability to help and the need to receive help may be no broader and deeper than a plate of food.
Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Denis Farrell, AP
Brad Barket, Getty Images
Chad Buchanan, Getty Images
Win McNamee, Getty Images
Al Bello, Getty Images
Jens Meyer, AP
Karel Prinsloo, AP
Laurent Gillieron, AP
Stefano Paltera, AP