Carlos Vargas works long hours at his construction job, but every Monday at the end of his shift, without fault, he and a team of volunteers drive around New York City late into the night, hitting the streets in search of hungry homeless people who could use a bite to eat.
Vargas, 52, moved to New York City from Yauco, Puerto Rico, more than 20 years ago in search of a better life. He recalled how heartbroken he was the first time he saw homeless people lining up Big Apple streets.
“People back home say that New York is this great place, with so much opportunity,” he said in Spanish in an interview with Fox News Latino. “Then you see this. It just breaks your heart.”
Several years ago, his pastor at the Cristo En Las Antillas church in the Bronx was looking for volunteers to create a mobile food pantry and drive around the city handing out warm food and drinks. Vargas raised his hand to volunteer, noting it was the best decision he ever made, as if he had found his calling.
New York City's homeless population, at around 64,000, is the highest since the Great Depression.
“I have the heart to help my brothers in need,” Vargas said. “We give them food, a blanket and the word of God.”
Vargas and his 7-person volunteer crew feed upwards of 150 people each week. Their donated, rickety van leaves the church around 8 p.m. on Monday nights and they drive around until nearly dawn.
He said it’s a long night, but one that is worth it.
“By the glory of God we go out and we will continue to do so,” Vargas said. “Nothing stops us – rain, snow. We will continue because they are waiting for us.”
Pastor Manuel Martinez, from Cristo En Las Antillas church, said the team of volunteers has been very motivated with their mission to help those in need.
“This is something that is very beautiful,” Martinez told Fox News Latino in Spanish. “It’s a sacrifice they are making. They have a great passion to do this job and they do it with so much love.”
The team of volunteers patches up the weekly menu from a variety of sources. One donates the bread, another one groceries, someone else makes rice and spaghetti while another gathers chocolates. They all chip in gas.
Over the last several weeks, Vargas and his crew have been receiving recognition in the local New York press. Vargas welcomed the attention, but he pointed out that the efforts are not to gain notoriety, just simply that it's a job that must be done.
“When we go out and give them food or a blanket, they give me God’s blessing before I can give it to them. They cry and I cry with them,” Vargas said, saying many of them live in cardboard boxes without much cover. “One evening, I ran out of food and I just started to cry. It hurt my heart that I could not feed them.”
It's a pain he feels deeply in his soul, and one which keeps him going.
“I am going to continue to help them until the God takes me,
Follow Lucia I. Suarez on Twitter @luciasuarezsang