As it has been for the past 13 years, Juan Rincón’s Saturday morning begins with a visit to the downtown Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market, knowing that before long his black Toyota Tundra will be filled with fruits and vegetables donated by wholesalers that he takes to his parish, St. Agatha in Los Angeles, to feed the needy.

¬øQué pasó, güero, cómo estás?” (What’s up, blondy, how are you?) he happily greets the first wholesaler he approaches early on this cold morning. After a hug, Rincón hands the man a pair of mugs as a token of appreciation. 

“Today I just have cucumbers and hot peppers,” the man answers, pointing to a pile of boxes. 

Rincón joyfully accepts the donation and starts stacking the boxes on his dolly. Over the next several hours, he’ll visit four more wholesalers at the produce market, each of whom also will receive a present from Rincón. 

About three hours later he heads to the Flower District, just a few blocks away, gathering flowers to adorn the chapel at Sylmar Juvenile Hall where he volunteers. Once done he makes stops for brunch and then heads to St. Agatha where --- about six hours after he began --- he unloads the truck.

For his faithfulness and commitment, the 61-year-old auto mechanic was among five recipients of St. Agatha’s 2012 Pastor’s Award who were honored during a Feb. 4 Mass and reception. The tradition began in 2008 when church leadership began honoring members who, through longtime service, set an example for the rest of the community, said Sister of St. Louis Karen Collier, parish life director.

Other 2012 honorees include Gilbert Dorado, a confirmation teacher, parish finance council member, Eucharistic minister, member of the outreach program SHARE and of the Gay & Lesbian Support Group; Ruby Aklamakpe, spirituality communications director, Eucharist minister coordinator, member of SHARE, among others; and Jorge and Emeldina Palma, member of the Spanish music ministry and RCIA catechist, respectively.

‘This is my calling’

When Rincón learned of SHARE, a ministry led by Marjorie Nickleberry that reaches out to the needy and homeless by providing food, bus passes and clothing, he immediately offered to support by bringing food donations. He had connections at the downtown market, having bought produce there since 1980, just a year after he got married, especially as the family grew to nine members.

 “When he asked me, I immediately said, ‘Yes! Where have you been?’” smiled Nickleberry. 

That was in 1999, and except for holidays and on very few occasions since then, Rincón has not stopped.

 “I believe this is my calling,” he says, while pushing the dolly full of boxes toward his truck. 

When asked why he does it alone, he just recounts the time when a parishioner asked him if he could help him, but when told it would take the whole morning plus picking up heavy loads, he said he would have to think about it and never showed up.

His younger son helped him several times as well as his wife Socorro, but “it is difficult to keep up with him,” she said. “I tell him that more than ten years is enough, that he should retire, but he won’t listen.” 

“I know sometimes people might not appreciate this,” he adds, “but it doesn’t matter because I’m doing it for God. My reward is my children, their health, and God provides everything for us.”

The produce and flower vendors see his good heart and value his work.

“It’s admirable,” said Gustavo Angel, a flower vendor who has been donating flowers for the last three years. “He does it for a good cause; he’s a great person.”

Rincón said he learned to give after watching his parents. 

“We were not rich, but whenever street vendors knocked on our door my mother not only bought from them, but always gave them something to eat and drink,” said Rincón, who was raised in the southwestern Mexican state of Nayarit.

His work does not go unseen by the church’s current and former leadership.

“None of us could do this better than him; he has a great charisma and a pleasant disposition,” said Teresa Amezcua, St. Agatha’s religious education director. “He does it very quietly and with a huge heart.”

“He’s a wonderful person, has a great spirit and does invaluable work for the [SHARE] program,” said Sandra Domingue, the church’s business manager.

“Juan Rincón has a great sense for the poor,” said Father Ken Deasy, former pastor with whom Juan and his children worked very closely. “If you ask him, he is the wealthiest man he knows; he has to share his blessings with someone else.”

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