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Munoz honored at CNN Heroes Gala

Although he didn’t take home the title of 2009 CNN Hero of the Year, Woodhaven resident Jorge Munoz still feels like a winner.

Munoz was one of the 10 finalists for the annual CNN Heroes award, and attended the star-studded award reception on November 21. Of the 10 nominees, Efren Peñaflorida, a Filipino educator who started a “pushcart classroom” to educate children in poor neighborhoods, was selected as the Hero of the Year after weeks of online voting and will receive a $100,000 prize.

“The reception was beautiful; it was a great honor,” Munoz said. “I was in tears, it was amazing.”

Munoz was nominated for his work feeding day laborers in Jackson Heights every night. A school bus driver, Munoz spends more than $400 a week to feed over 100 men and women every night.

Munoz said he was touched when comedian George Lopez, who introduced him at the gala, told Munoz that he was honored to introduce him and offered him encouragement in his charitable efforts.

“Now, thanks to CNN, so many people want to do this,” Munoz said.

The nomination also brought Munoz attention from would-be philanthropists. Munoz said he’s received emails from people who want to help Munoz or copy his model in other areas, including a 12-year-old girl who wants to feed day laborers in Manhattan.

Despite not being named the Hero of the Year, Munoz won’t be going home empty handed. Munoz and the eight other nominees each received a prize of $25,000.

“$25,000 is a year, year and a half budget,” Munoz said. “They say it’s for me, but I’m not going to use the money on me, I’m going to use it to help these guys.”

The reception, entitled “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute,” aired on Thanksgiving at 9 p.m., and will run again at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, November 28 and 29.

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