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ARGENTINA | 29-06-2019 10:52

Bearded but no villains, the charity club helping the poor in BA

Don’t judge a book by its cover – as the recession grips, this group of hirsute individuals are providing poverty-stricken porteños with company and sustenance.

Robust, tattooed and clad in leather jackets, the “Bearded Villains” club does charitable work in Buenos Aires City, distributing food and clothing to those living on the streets.

From dinnertime to well past midnight, this rough-looking urban tribe, clad with chains, body-piercings and leather wristbands, walk around like ghosts providing aid but also company to those who need it most.

From their van they lower blankets, plates of food and jugs of coffee. An impoverished group receives them like old friends. Smiling, they hug and chat. The scene is repeated every Wednesday, without fail.

In Argentina, 32 percent of the population are below the poverty line and 6.7 percent are considered destitute. With unemployment at 9.1 percent and annual inflation nearing 55 percent, the income brackets defining the impoverished continue to widen.

‘OUR COMMITMENT’

“We do a lot of charity beyond our meetings, talking about beards, drinking a beer and eating asado,” Mauro Ponti, the president of the local chapter of Bearded Villains, told AFP.

The club was founded in 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Every aspiring member must meet the indispensable requirements: a beard at least four centimetres long and adherence to the values of loyalty, respect, family and charity.

“We meet up every week to feed street people, we sponsor food kitchens for kids and we go to the Children’s Hospital to hand out toys,” says Ponti, whose half-shaven head is tattooed with an enraged tiger.

Just like his club-mates, Ponti – burly with thick arms and enormous hands bristling with skull-bearing rings – has a deliberately intimidating look.

“Beyond our rough look, we are active and committed members of society,” explains Ponti who grouches against those who confuse them with a bikers club along the lines of Hell’s Angels.

LOCAL BRANCH

“Bearded Villains Argentina” is the country’s first such hirsute club and seeks to break the prejudices that bikers are only into unlimited rock and roll and leather jackets.

“People see you and judge you,” admits Ponti, adding: “The club was formed to change that paradigm.”

With no more economic support than the money paid by members, these bearded Argentines go about their mission of solidarity.

“We don’t get help from anybody, everything comes out of our own pockets, combining our jobs with this work,” he explains.

Ponti is a tattoo artist: “Sometimes in my studio I do a flashday, exchanging a tattoo for non-perishable food, nappies or baby’s milk so that we can keep supplied.”

KIDS IN THE ROUGH

The club, also known as “Villanos del fin del mundo,” has around 70 active members of all ages, creeds and political ideologies.

Gonzalo Torres, a 40-yearold salesman, is a proud club member. He likes to stroke his beard as he talks.

“Many of us as children have gone to sleep with stomach cramps from hunger,” he explains.

Among those waiting every Wednesday night are “children of two or three [years old] sleeping rough, often in the cold or rain.”

“No-one comes near and if they do, it’s to see if they can get a vote out of it,” he observes critically, declaring that the Bearded Villains “have no political banners.”

“We’re not going to change the world but with a hot meal and a blanket, we change the world for these people for a short while,” he sums up.

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