From the Toronto Star, writers Craig and Marc Kielburger describe a typical night at the El Mocambo.
In the basement of the El Mocambo Tavern, Abbas Jahangiri leads a team of volunteers in prayer.
A floor up, his staff is busy. Bartenders stock the fridge with fresh beer and clear away cases of empties from the previous night. An indie band unloads gear under the neon palm tree marking the historic entrance of the music hall where the Rolling Stones and Elvis Costello once played.
Down the stairs past rows of canned goods, volunteers bow their heads among deli meats and chopped tomatoes that will soon become sandwiches for the homeless. Jahangiri asks God to bless the food, the poorest of the poor and those suffering in “Darfur, Darfur, Darfur.”
In just a few hours, a typical night will begin at this less-than-typical bar. By making sandwiches, pouring drinks and playing music, everyone who enters the El Mocambo’s doors works towards the same cause: charity.
“We have about 100 volunteers who come here at different times, after they finish work. It’s such a righteous act,” explains Jahangiri. “This place has such a unique culture. It’s a landmark for culture. I wanted to use the name and the music to push for charity.”
This is no “church basement” volunteer group. Instead, the Toronto music hall works for the volunteers. At the end of the night, when bands pack up and tabs are settled, all of the venue’s profits go straight to work as Jahangiri locks his club and takes the sandwiches to the city’s homeless.
The volunteers are part of Jahangiri’s service organization, Serving Charity. They, along with the venue’s bartenders and bands, are integral to funding the group’s activities. That includes sandwiches for the homeless in Canada, as well as projects in Vietnam, India and the Dominican Republic.
“Everything Serving Charity does is picked up by the El Mocambo,” says Jahangiri. “In that way, we use the aspects of music and fame and finance and turn it into something for charity.”
The shows are like small-scale versions of U2’s 360° tour. Both band and barman delicately mix social message with music to create positive social change. Socially-conscious lyrics can usually be heard from the street and the space is often donated to charities for fundraisers. Patrons also get a discount on the cover charge for donating canned goods.