Miguel Angel Nuñez: Feeding Others Nourishes His Soul
AGE4ACTION CONTEST WINNER
Every Monday and Wednesday, 67-year-old Miguel Angel Nuñez rises at 4:30 AM By 5:00, he is standing in line at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to pick up groceries for the food program at All Peoples Community Center in south LA. Other days of the week, he’s out rounding up food from other sources to feed the 250 families who come to All Peoples every Friday afternoon for free groceries. Miguel wants them to get as much as they need and then some.
Miguel is an RSVP volunteer at All Peoples but his work goes beyond volunteerism. Miguel is an entrepreneur, always on the lookout for deals that get more and better food for the people that the food program serves.
“Before Miguel started working with us, all we had was canned food and baked goods,” says Norma Ibarra, who works with All Peoples’ RSVP program and nominated Nuñez for the Age4Action award. “He’s helped us find free or inexpensive sources of fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Ibarra. On the day that Age4Action spoke to him, he had brought in a vanload of tomatoes, onions, potatoes, oranges, carrots, mangoes, and papayas.
One recent week, he found a flower wholesaler with five too many boxes of tulips. That day, members of All Peoples’ after-school youth program got tulip bouquets to give their moms. Members of a support group for abused women also got tulips to brighten their day.
A native of Argentina and a butcher by trade, Miguel is a relative newcomer to volunteering. He came to the USA at age of 37 during a time when Argentina was in economic and military turmoil. He eventually found work as a butcher and married. After his son, Gabriel, was born 17 years ago, Nuñez became a stay-at-home dad. His wife was a teacher and also ran an after-school program.
Often the couple squabbled about the help she offered to the families of children in her classroom. She tried to help them solve problems. Sometimes, she bought shoes and clothing for children with her own money. “I didn’t see any need for her to do that,” Miguel says. “It was the one issue we always argued about.”
Then about six years ago, his wife died, leaving Miguel to care for their 11-year-old son. Hundreds of people turned out for his wife’s funeral. “They couldn’t pay her back, but they came to show their thanks for all she did,” he says. “Their appreciation changed me as a person. I saw that she was right, and I was wrong.”
After being widowed, Miguel was concerned foremost for his son’s well-being. Gabriel seemed to be coping with his mother’s death well enough. But soon after, Miguel fell into a deep depression. As time went on, the dark feelings worsened. One day, as Miguel was driving with his son, his vision became blurry, and he couldn’t see where he was going. He visited a doctor, who prescribed a strong antidepressant to calm him down and help him rest. “But drugs were not what I needed,” Miguel says. “I’m used to being a very active person.”
At his church, Miguel met a priest he could confide in. The priest encouraged him to get involved as a volunteer serving others. Not long after, he talked about his situation with Norma Ibarra at All Peoples.
Ibarra remembers Miguel’s first visit to All Peoples’ Food Program. “He came by the center and received a tour with information about RSVP and the food program,” she recalls. “A day later, he was back with all the required documents and the registration package completed.”
“I’m ready to help feed our community and give something back!” she recalls him saying. Miguel never filled the antidepressant prescription his doctor gave him.
Three years into his volunteer job at the food program, Miguel is more committed than ever. A year ago, he could get 20 cases of canned goods at the food bank. This year, it’s 10 cases, even as the needs of families that All Peoples serves continue to grow. He’s always at the front of the line at the distribution centers and on the lookout for better deals. He could do even more to help the families at All Peoples if someone would donate a commercial refrigerator and freezer. As it stands, he’s limited to bringing in food that can be used right away.
When Miguel is out on his rounds picking up food, he meets people who tell him that he’s crazy to work so hard for nothing, that the job should pay.
To those people, he says, “Yo soy voluntario…y somos muy pocos. Lo importante es que me siento bien en lo que yo hago y me siento bien cuando llego a casa.” In English: “I am a volunteer, and we are very few. What’s important is that I feel great about what I do and I feel good when I go home.” While his income is very modest, his satisfaction comes from helping others with even less.
Does he feel old at 67? Miguel says he doesn’t. “Viejo es cuando un esta en la casa no haciendo ninguna actividad.” Or, “Old is when you are home doing nothing.” He says he thanks God that he is able to see and walk and believes everyone his age should volunteer.
“Debe de haber mas voluntarios,” he says. “More people ought to volunteer.”