A good Samaritan in New York has 120 dinner guests -- every night

Toan Lam, founder of GoInspireGo.com, recently wrote about Jorge Munoz, a bus driver who provides the homeless in his neighborhood in Queens, New York, with 120 to 140 meals every night. Over the past four years, Munoz and his family's personal outreach program has prepared an estimated 70,000 dinners.

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.
Charity is a Star
Toan Lam, founder of GoInspireGo.com, recently wrote about Jorge Munoz, a bus driver who provides the homeless in his neighborhood in Queens, New York, with 120 to 140 meals every night. For more stories about charity, click through this gallery.
AFP/Getty Images

Charitable Celebrities

    Brad and Angelina are the reigning King and Queen of Celebrity Charity. Angelina is a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador, and the pair has traveled the world trying to bring relief to the neediest. According to tax records, the couple donated more than $8 million to charity in 2006 alone.

    Kevin Winter, Getty Images

    Oprah Winfrey has invested $40 million in her Academy for Girls in South Africa and raised over $58.3 million for various non-profits through her Oprah's Angel Network. Plus, she's given cars, hams, toasters, etc. to underprivileged audience members on her show.

    Denis Farrell, AP

    She gives no mercy on the bench, but famously nasty-on-TV Judge Judy Sheindlin is much more charitable in real life. She supports a mentoring program called Her Honor, which pairs high school juniors and students with dynamic female leaders.

    Brad Barket, Getty Images

    Paris Hilton is charitable... in theory. After her brief her prison stay, Paris Hilton announced she was traveling to on a philanthropic mission to Rwanda. Her inability to follow through made her less giving than some of her celebrity pals.

    Chad Buchanan, Getty Images

    George Clooney, who goes to United Way board meetings, traveled to Darfur and then headlined the Save Darfur rally in 2006. Clooney is a co-founder of Not On Our Watch, took part in the America: A Tribute to Heroes charity telethon for victims of 9/11... and he takes care of his own, too. He donated $25,000 to writers during the 2007 strike in Hollywood.

    Win McNamee, Getty Images

    Hurricane Katrina rallied many celebrities; Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis joined Habitat for Humanity's rebuilding efforts in their hometown of New Orleans.

    Al Bello, Getty Images

    Bob Geldof was one of the first to leverage fame in the name of charity by founding LiveAid, Live 8, and the Commission for Africa. He received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his charitable work in 1986.

    Jens Meyer, AP

    Madonna, with daughter Lourdes, visited a U.N. Millennium village in Malawi and funded several projects. But the controversy surrounding her adopting of local boy David Banda made her goodwill a little fishy.

    Karel Prinsloo, AP

    Irish musician Bono speaks in front of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf at a plenary entitled 'Delivering the Promise of Africa.' Bono has been instrumental in raising awareness of global poverty and the AIDS epidemic with his ONE and Product Red campaigns.

    Laurent Gillieron, AP

    Daryl Hannah was removed from a walnut tree in 2006 while protesting the demolition of a 14-acre urban garden in Los Angeles.

    Stefano Paltera, AP

Read Full Story