NEW YORK (AP) — Robinson Cano found a sliver of room in the cramped kitchen in Queens and sliced slabs of ham into neat one-inch cubes.
It turns out the New York Yankees’ All-Star second baseman with the smoothest swing around is pretty good with a knife, too.
Cano, along with teammates Curtis Granderson, Hiroki Kuroda and Boone Logan, spent a couple of hours Tuesday afternoon helping Jorge Munoz do what he’s done each and every day — except one — for nearly eight years: prepare more than 100 meals in his crowded house for day laborers who can’t afford to eat.
“If you’re willing to do it, you can do anything you want,” Munoz said.
Cano and Co. surprised the 5-foot-2, 48-year-old Colombian immigrant at his modest, semi-attached home in a working class neighborhood as part of the Yankees’ fourth annual HOPE Week, hopping out of SUVs carrying 20-pound bags of rice and jugs of vegetable oil. Munoz didn’t seem fazed by the stars — he says he has little time for baseball — but was appreciative for the attention and help for his truly grass roots effort.
“Let’s get to cooking,” Granderson said with a bag instead of a bat slung over his shoulder.
Munoz was working as a school bus driver — he was let go in December — in 2004 when he got the idea for his charity. One afternoon he met the laborers waiting on a street corner under the elevated train tracks a few blocks from his house. They told him, if they get picked for work, they can afford to eat.
Soon after, Munoz was sitting in his parked bus when he saw someone dumping a large quantity of food into a garbage bin outside a business. He approached the person and asked if he could have the food.
Why not feed those men?
That first night, with his mom’s help, he handed out eight brown-bag sandwiches. It has steadily grown and he now prepares and distributes up to 160 dinners in a night. He gets help in the kitchen from his mom, sister, and a cook that his not-for-profit “Angel in Queens” pays for.
Munoz estimates that he spends $1,200 per week on his endeavor with $450 coming out of his family’s pocket — his sister, Luz, contributes from her paycheck as an employee of the U.S. Social Security Administration, and he uses money from his unemployment checks.
Otherwise, donations trickle in one check at a time.
Munoz was heartbroken the one time he couldn’t feed the folks under the tracks. It was a snowstorm about three years ago, when then roads were impassable, and he couldn’t get the necessary supplies.
“The next day they said they were waiting for me,” he recalled.
As Cano cut up the ham, Kuroda stirred it into two pots of lentil and potato soup simmering on a stove most would consider too small to cook for a family of four, let alone roast 60 pounds of chicken once a week.
The Japanese star smiled as he took his task seriously. Kuroda said through a translator that he had never seen this kind of soup before.
In a similar overstuffed 6- by 9-foot kitchen upstairs, Logan, a 6-foot-5 lefty, showed Granderson how easy it is to peel and cut up potatoes.
“I tried to peel a potato and was struggling,” he said, “but Boone was knocking them out.”
Munoz will have some help with his regular 9:30 p.m. run to distribute the meals Tuesday. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and HOPE Week alumni will accompany Munoz to the street corner under the rails and hand out food.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.