WASHINGTON – Jorge Munoz uses donations and money he earns as a school bus driver to feed about 130 poor people a day from the back of his truck in New York City. With the help of his mother, sister and nephew, he’s only missed one night of serving the meals in the past six years. On Wednesday, President Barack Obama awarded him and 12 other people the Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second highest honor for civilians.
Munoz’ drive to give to others began with a simple word of advice from his mother: “Share.” The 46-year-old Colombian immigrant took it to heart. The homemade meals Munoz gives out can translate to 22 pounds of rice, 20 pounds of pasta, 60 pounds of chicken, 150 cups of coffee and 160 pieces of bread in a single night. This year’s Citizens Medal winners have helped injured service members and advocated for deaf children. One honoree is focused on conservation, while another helps young pregnant women with educational training. They also include a World War II veteran and a 9/11 widow who has reached out to help widows in Afghanistan. “For these men and women, serving others isn’t just the right thing to do,” Obama said, “it’s the obvious thing to do.” President Richard M. Nixon established the award in 1969 as a tribute to exemplary service by any citizen. Obama looked to the public to find the winners of this year’s medals. While the honorees’ names might not be recognizable, Obama said “They are heroes to those who need it the most. And together they remind us that we all have a purpose on this Earth that goes beyond our own lives and our own individual needs.” George J. Weiss Jr., a World War II veteran, started an all-volunteer rifle squad three decades ago that has delivered the final salute at more than 56,400 military burials at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis. “We don’t know 99 percent of the people we’re burying — they’re strangers,” said Weiss, 82, of Marine on St. Croix, Minn. “But still, we’ve all been in the military, and we try to take care of each other.” The Sept. 11 attacks left Susan Retik widowed. But she turned her tragedy into hope for widows in Afghanistan — where the al-Qaida planners of the terror strikes found harbor. Retik was pregnant with her third child when her husband David was killed on American Airlines Flight 11, one of the planes lost in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The outpouring of support she received after she lost her husband led her to co-found Beyond the 11th in 2003. “I just thought to myself, ‘Who’s helping them over there?’ So many people here were helping us,” said Retik, 42, of Needham, Mass. Obama said for Retik and the other honorees, “The words ‘not my problem’ don’t exist. Instead, they ask themselves, ‘If I don’t help this person, who will?'” The other 2010 Citizens Medal recipients are: Daisy Brooks of Chicago; Betty Kwan Chinn, Eureka, Calif.; Roberta Diaz Brinton, Los Angeles; Cynthia Church, Wilmington, Del.; Mary Hoodhood, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Kimberly McGuiness, Cave Spring, Ga.; Lisa Nigro, Chicago; MaryAnn Phillips, Star Valley Ranch, Wyo.; Elizabeth Cushman Titus Putnam, Shaftsbury, Vt.; and Myrtle Faye Rumph, Inglewood, Calif.