August 10, 2009

An Angel in New York (a continued series brought to you by Toan Lam)

Brought to you by Toan Lam, live on assignment in New York
To see the video of this story, please visit our YouTube channel!


photo courtesy of Angel in Queens website

I hopped a flight to New York this weekend to shoot a follow-up on Jorge Munoz's story on GoInspireGo.com. Journalism got really personal and emotional. Munoz, a.k.a. Angel in Queens (bus driver responsible for more than 70,000 hot meals to hungry people in his neighborhood) admits, he was surprised when the Go Inspire Go crew, along with a the Spungen family, a generous family from Waukegan, Illinois knocked on this angel's door to surprise him with new appliances.
Munoz admits, "I want to cry every night when I go out there to deliver the food. But this guy,' (he slaps me on the chest) 'He made me cry!"

This was one of the most logistically challenging, "bust-your-butt" weekends for me; blogging, shooting, editing, meet ups with my Go Inspire Go.com (GIG) crew, juggling phone calls with Good Morning America, (GMA anchor Chris Cuomo saw our Tweet about Munoz's selfless service and collaborated with us to feature the story on Good Morning America). It was a juggling act for me, calling the GMA distribution and rights lawyer, coordinating the purchase of a new stove and refrigerator for Munoz with a family who saw the Angel in Queens video, e-mailing and calling his sister, Luz, to make sure Munoz was home, etc.) -- all while trying to make travel plans and coordinate with 20 volunteer crew members for the big surprise we had in store for Jorge! Phew... Deep breath.

Be present, I remind myself. Albeit hectic, this experience also proved to be one of the most exciting, rewarding, inspiring, warm and fuzzy weekends I've experienced since launching our inspirational website just five short months ago.



After the Angel in Queens story went viral, many viewers from around the world contacted GIG and Jorge's family. Our e-mail inboxes flooded with inspiring stories of how you the viewers were moved by the video... and how you could help.

One of the first to reach out was the Spungens, an amazing philanthropic family out of Waukegan, Illinois (they're the topic of our next blog on corporate responsibility). They insisted on buying a new stove and refrigerator for Jorge and his family after learning about Jorge's amazing project through GIG. On Saturday, I met Debbi Spungen and her brother Glen Spungen (I promise you that you'll be even more inspired after our next blog and video on this family) in New York for the big surprise.

Mission Accomplished.
In the sweltering, humid summer New York heat, my volunteer crew and I surreptitiously met at the end of Munoz's street...

Knock knock... (Jorge answers the door)
"Hi Jorge, it's Toan from GoInspireGo, on behalf of GoInspireGo, my team and our viewers world wide, we wanted to thank you for your selfless act–through your Angels in Queens project. Thank you for feeding more than 70,000 hungry people the past four years...

We have a surprise for you
."

"Ahhh WOW," says Jorge, as he wipes tears away from his eyes, "I called you last night to thank you for getting my story out there, we've gotten so many calls and donations and now you're here!"

"We have a surprise for you," I said, as I walked him down his driveway. "I want you to meet our viewers and friends of Go Inspire Go, Debbi and Glenn. They came all the way from Chicago... to meet you."

In a warm, sincere tone, Glenn says, "We heard about this story, this amazing thing that you do. How charitable you are, you are an inspiration to everybody, around the country, around the world. We flew in from Chicago, to give you a special, special gift from our hearts."

As I opened the van door to present the new refrigerator and stove, Jorge wipes away tears and says, "WOW! I was just thinking right now," he explained "What I was going to do because the (stove) handle isn't working. I didn't know what to do. But now, check it out!" He explained that he had been using his sister, Luz's stove upstairs and that the wear and tear on her stove, from cooking for hours at a time everyday, was taking a toll on Luz's stove too.

And the excitement kept on building.

Len Harris' gracious team not only threw in free delivery and set up of the appliances, they surprised all of us! Len Harris had his team deliver a microwave as a gift to Jorge, after we got in contact with him about purchasing appliances for Jorge and seeing the GIG video.


(photo courtesy of Sarah Mirza)

The whole GIG crew decided to give Jorge a break, so we rolled up our sleeves and started cooking. On the menu; ham, beans and rice. And with Jorge's guidance, we got to work. I've never had such a good time cooking. So much fun. I was even more humbled when I witnessed this angel in action.

While cooking, a woman who looked really stressed and tired knocks on the door. Jorge runs to answer it. I said, "who is it?" He said, "Shhh, I'll take care of it." Munoz filled the woman's two-wheel cart with groceries and produce. Munoz embodies the meaning of service and selflessness.

I can't even begin to explain the excitement and thrill that came from this surprise delivery from the Spungen’s wonderful gift; the kind gesture of a gift that keeps on giving. But as all of the volunteers agreed, we were the ones who received the biggest gift – The lesson of gratitude and perspective. I was surprised that this amazing experience came together with such finesse. (Thanks to Birju Pandya, with Karmatube.org, whom I met from a friend via FaceBook just days before the shoot–Thanks for volunteering Birju and all of my GIG'sters!)

I learned that perhaps when you dedicate your life to service, as Jorge has led by example, there is this energy, this intangible, indescribable thing called joy, that happens. You'd have to meet this real life angel to know what I'm talking about. So Jorge Munoz, we salute you!

In the spirit of service, I thank Jorge, his family and the people he is reaching out to. As they have taught, me, my GIG'sters, all the volunteers on this story (Sarah Mirza, Julian Cohen, Gilles Cohen, Shephali Patel, Takeshi Inamura and other volunteers, Birju Pandya and Shephali Patel (from CharityFocus.org and Karmatube.org)–most of us were strangers brought together by GIG and this surprise donation.

Glenn Spungen
poignantly pulled me aside and explained, "Toan, this was an amazing process, GoInspireGo has brought everyone together, and no matter what direction the website and project goes, you've made beautiful life long friends here today."

Once again I realized that you don't need much to make a big impact on the world. Look at Jorge, who makes $700 a week and spends half of it feeding the hungry people in his community. Amen to that! What can you do?

*Special thanks to the volunteers on this story: Sarah Mirza, Julian Cohen, Gilles Cohen, Shephali Patel, Takeshi Inamura, Birju Pandya and the Spungen family.

-------> Want to learn more about what you can do? Please visit our website's volunteer section or subscribe to our mailing list to find out about more of the efforts we are making to such causes. If you would like to donate money to help us cover and promote more stories of inspiration and good in this world, visit us here.

Thanks Toan! And thank you GIG supporters!

2 comments:

  1. Toan, congrats to you and your team. That was a CRAZZZZY weekend! IT's truly a gift that you got brought everyone together, including the Spungens! Holy cow. GIG is ON!

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  2. Very cool. I love hearing stories like that. I'll be sure to share this link with others!

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