Abbas Jahangir Devotedly drives through streets of Toronto every morning to deliver food and other materials to homeless
Every morning at 2:00am after closing the downtown Toronto nightclub he owns, Abbas Jahangir goes out and drives around the city, personally delivering food to the homeless.
Whether it is -20 degrees below zero during a January snowstorm or thunder showering in April, every morning for the past two years he faithfully delivers sandwiches, hot tea, water and other materials to the less fortunate. The only days he missed were when he had to leave the country to work on international charity projects. Even a leg injury couldn't stop him from going out.
"To me, charity is something that needs to be done everyday," Abbas says with conviction. "That moment when you give someone a bed to sleep on, or give them food, it changes you in a beautiful way; it is priceless. You're not going to find that feeling through money or material possessions, but only through service for others."
A Life of Service to Others
Serving others has become a way of life for Abbas, who was born in Tehran and lived there for the first nine years of his life. After living for a period in New Dehli, India, he arrived in Canada in 1987.
It was around this time that the budding entrepreneur received his calling to help the poor.
"I remember reading a story on Mother Teresa and her orphanage in a Time magazine article 21 years ago, and from that moment on, I knew I had to do something," Abbas reflects. "She put action into her service. A lot of religions talk about good deeds, but they don't really execute. She always executed."
'Doing something' would be a gross understatement to what Abbas is doing now. In addition to going out every day approximately between 2:00am and 6:00am, handing out food to those living on the street, Abbas is also very active in going to feed the poor in developing countries such as the Dominican Republic, India, and the Sudan. He has also registered his own charity organization, Serving Charity, which focuses on serving the poorest of the world's poor.
Ever year, Abbas travels to India and works closely with the Sisters of Mother Teresa, serving truckloads of rice to the poverty-stricken community of Kolkata. In fact, Abbas was set to leave for his annual trip to India the very next day after his interview with Salam Toronto. He remarks, "These sisters are so powerful that they can overcome all of this suffering they see every day, I'm still trying to reach their level!"
But as tough as things are out in the developing world, Abbas feels that in many ways the situation is actually worse for the poor here in Toronto. That is a big reason why he devotes so much of his time, energy and money to the city's homeless.
"I've never met someone like Abbas, who has devoted everything he does in life to improving the lives of others," says Aman Bassi, a regular volunteer who has also gone out and delivered the sandwiches with Abbas a handful of times. "His genuine ambition to help these people in need is well received whenever he calls out to someone on the street, hands someone a hot tea or sandwich or gives them a hug and says, 'God bless you'."
Abbas has remade the basement of his club, El Mocambo, into a kitchen that is used exclusively for making close to 1,000 sandwiches every week, before they are later delivered. Originally, he had paid staff that produced the sandwiches, but now a team of regular and rotating volunteers like Bassi come in on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Some of the volunteers also take advantage of the uplifting opportunity to go out on the streets with Abbas and personally deliver the sandwiches to the homeless.
On certain days, young school children gather and make sandwiches, instilling a habit of giving at an early age. Another group of kids suffering from autism get together and make cookies to be given to the homeless as well as to volunteers.
"It's amazing; disabled children helping the poorest of the poor, meanwhile many able-bodied wealthy individuals are wasting their energies in other pursuits," Abbas comments.
Sana Shamim, who was visiting from Calgary, also volunteered as both a sandwich maker and deliverer. "My experience working on this project has been spectacular," she says. "What I really like of what they're doing here is that they're helping to give people food and sustenance and not blindly giving them money and telling them 'ok here's some money' and then just leaving."
This focus on taking the time and effort to serve these people of unfortunate means has indeed been a successful blueprint. Salam Toronto discovered this when it joined Abbas and two volunteers during the twilight hours of the morning delivering the carefully-made sandwiches, along with tea, water, and donuts. Almost all of the recipients living on the street were unfailingly polite, well-spoken and immeasurably grateful of Abbas.
"When I pass homeless people on the street I often wonder what their story is, and want to ask them where they're coming from and what led them to be where they're at right now," Shamim said before embarking on the journey through the city streets.
Abbas knows their stories, their names, and even some of their dietary preferences of food. Going out and meeting them every night, he has not only fed them and at times clothed them, but he has also built lasting relationships with them.
"I love you," he genuinely says to one of the homeless individuals he has gotten to know over the past two years.
"Canada is a rich country, especially here in Toronto," says Victor, who recently immigrated from Bulgaria and now works for Abbas and also assists in his project for the homeless. "Yet you see hundreds of people with nothing."
Victor continues; "There are some other organizations that serve food and help, but usually there is some sort of catch, or you have to sign up or pray with them, which some people may find annoying or infringing on the little pride they have left. But with Abbas, there is none of that. He wishes you God-speed and that is all."
For Abbas' team of volunteers, they too have been greatly influenced in a short period of time.
"For years I've headed downtown for a night out and paid these beautiful people no attention, I've missed so many opportunities to help good people desperately in need," says Bassi. "The major impact this experience has had on my life is it's given me a new sense of humility and grounded me. To serve the poorest of the poor has really put my own life in perspective."
The Big Yellow Hummer
Abbas Jahangir is a very successful Iranian-Canadian businessman, who in addition to running El Mocambo, a tavern that over the decades has hosted the likes of the Rolling Stones and U2, he owns several other properties. He is also starting a movie production brand that is currently concentrating on making documentaries on the poor and homeless. His next movie project is called 'Children for Charity.'
Almost every night when he is delivering to the poor, he is either yelled or honked at for driving a yellow Hummer, a gas-guzzling monster that in this day and age of global warming headlines is not exactly known for its environmentally-friendly nature. Even though he does not use it for personal use (for which he says he uses a bicycle), there has been significant criticism. Abbas, however, clarifies his reasons in driving the Hummer.
"It's certainly controversial to drive a Hummer and then deliver to the poor. But there are many different psychological reasons behind it," Abbas explains. "It represents power and status. And for the poorest of the poor, to have someone (they perceive to be) at the top to come down to be their friend is such a bridge; they feel like they can move up."
"This happens in all the classes; lower class, middle class, and upper class, it's a human species behaviour that tells us subconsciously that we want to move up. My psychologist and I designed a plan that says if the homeless have a relationship where they have a friend in a top place, they feel a sense of comfort. It builds a bridge of hope that has many aspects; financial, social, status, philosophy."
Another advantage for the big yellow vehicle is that the homeless in the city all instantly recognize it and know when and where it is going to be each morning, not to mention the excess space that enables the storage of food and extra volunteers. Advantages that might not be as apparent in say, a Kia Rio.
The Stories behind the Homeless
Through his morning route around the downtown streets, Abbas strikes up conversations with most of the regulars like he is talking to old friends. A few new faces whom he has not met before also emerge, though they certainly for the most part have heard of 'the friendly Persian guy who drives the yellow Hummer every morning' from other people on the street.
Among the regulars is Richard, a talented handyman originally from Vancouver whom Abbas usually meets towards the end of his daily trip. He arrived in Toronto to work and save money for his wife and two kids. While here, his wife and daughter were killed in Vancouver when a tractor rolled over their vehicle. Mentally, he lost it after this, and eventually had to give his son away to children's aid. Later, he burnt his legs, and soon after beginning to heal they became infected due to poor living conditions. Just a few weeks ago, they had to amputate Richard's legs.
There is also Fred, who is 68 years old and has worked as a bartender and at golf courses. He has since had health problems that have prevented him from working. His grown children neglected to help, and he is now relegated to a life on the streets. Abbas plans on having Fred come in and work his old job as a bartender at El Mocambo one night.
When asked what circumstances lead most of these people to the streets, Abbas answers that life in general and broken relationships in particular have traumatic consequences on their health, causing a downward spiral. This goes against the common held perception that most of them have caused their own downfall.
Of course there is Zinath, perhaps Abbas' favourite. She is a well-spoken lady who has been living on the streets for nine years. She left Pakistan with her husband, a doctor, many years ago, leaving behind a well-educated family of lawyers and doctor's. Upon arriving in Canada, her husband became very ill, and as they had only just recently immigrated, medical bills began to take their toll. By the time her husband died, Zinath was effectively left with nothing. Worse yet, her family back home would not take her back. Today, she is battling a host of mental problems.
"You know I love you very much," Abbas reminds her. Later, he tells his volunteers that until recently, she had not laid down in a bed for over two years. That is, until the Iranian-Canadian put her up at a nice hotel for a few days, allowing her to take a break from the unforgiving life on the streets.
Abbas has extended this extra hand of assistance to others as well. Some of his staff at the El Mocambo were formerly homeless. He has thus given them a means to a living as well as a place to stay.
The magnitude of Abbas' work is tough to measure. Others close to him, such as his staff and volunteers, are clearly compelled to follow his lead.
"Positive action is contagious," he says.
One volunteer estimated that Abbas spends approximately $30,000 each month to fund this project of delivering sandwiches and other materials alone. The time and energy he spends on this and other projects is even greater. But this is who he is, devoting his life to servicing others. Much like his role model, Mother Teresa.
"Perhaps someone will read your article and be inspired to help others, just like I was when I read that article on Mother Teresa!" Abbas says in his trademark infectious enthusiasm.
can only hope.
... Payvand News - 08/25/08 ... --