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 is a bus driver responsible for preparing and delivering more than 70,000 hot meals to hungry people in his neighborhood over the last four and a half years. He admits he was surprised when the Go Inspire Go crew, along with the Spungen family, a generous family from Waukegan, Illinois -- that I'll talk more about in a later blog-- knocked on this angel's door to surprise him with new kitchen appliances. "For a long time, I didn't cry because when I see those guys in the street, I want to cry every night. But I have to control myself, I have to be strong." Munoz said. "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: blogging, shooting, editing, meet ups with the Go Inspire Go.com (GIG) crew -- and 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, 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 ) -- all the while trying to make travel plans and coordinate with 20 volunteer crew members for the big surprise we had in store for Jorge! Shew... Deep breath. Be present, I reminded my self. 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 Glenn 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.
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!" "As I walked him down his driveway," I said, "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. 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 open the van door to present the new washer and dryer, Jorge wipes away even more tears and says, "WOW! I was just thinking right now... 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. The wear wear and tear on her stove, from cooking for hours at a time everyday, was taking a toll, too.
The excitement kept on building. Len Harris' 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 he saw the GIG video.
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. With Jorge's guidance, we got to work. I've never had such a good time cooking, about a dozen of us bumping into each other in the tiny kitchen. The sweet smell of pinto beans and savory, juicy ham cooking over the stove reminded me of good old home cooking -- comfort food. I was in awe by how much love and time went into cooking food in bulk. It was even more humbling to witness this angel in action. As we were cooking, a woman who looked really tired, stressed and aged, knocks on the door. Jorge runs to answer it. I said, who is it? He said, "Shhh, I'll take care of it." Munoz fills the woman's two-wheel cart with groceries and produce. He face lit up as walked down the driveway with a mini-two wheeled cart in tow.
I can't even begin to explain the excitement, the thrill, that came from the delivery of the Spungen's wonderful gift. But as all of the volunteers agreed, we were the ones who received the biggest gift -- the lesson of gratitude and perspective.
In the spirit of service, we thank Jorge, Luz and the entire Munoz family.
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.
You can find out more about Toan Lam at http://www.goinspirego.com. Click on the YouTube link and check out the stories his team created, and videos created by viewers.
Contact Toan at: firstname.lastname@example.org