This is a small stroke of genius:
Brother Al Mascia has much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, and so does his flock.
After losing the brick-and-mortar headquarters for his Detroit-based charitable operations earlier this month, the brown-robed Franciscan friar has kept serving the homeless, the elderly and others in Detroit.
Mascia anticipated the closing of the building more than a year ago and raised $4,000 to buy two specially designed tricycles with vendor carts in front and storage trailers in the back so he wouldn’t miss a beat in serving his clientele.
“St. Francis went beyond the walls of the medieval city to serve the exiled,” said Mascia, referring to St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Catholic religious order to which Mascia belongs. “Now, I have no walls between me and the people I serve.”
Mascia’s Canticle Café and St. Al’s Community Center used to be housed in a large aging building on Washington Boulevard that cost $200,000 a year in utilities and maintenance. The building’s owner, the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, sold it to a private firm that now owns the entire side of the street.
An archdiocese official said it cannot find an affordable new space for the community center because many building owners in a rebounding downtown don’t want a tenant that serves the poor and homeless.
But the development didn’t stop Mascia. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, in sun, sleet and snow, he pedals into the outdoor waiting area of the Rosa Parks Transit Center on the tricycle — a practice he started last year.
He comes loaded with hot drinks, sandwiches and fruit, small packets of toiletries and clothing. He said he won’t be serving today because there are meals served all over the city, but he does plan on serving people on Christmas Day.
On Tuesday last week, dozens quickly lined up — the homeless Army veteran with two children, the recovering crack addict, the elderly woman who said she comes mainly to stave off loneliness. Mascia and three volunteers gave away all they had within 45 minutes.
“Brother Al is always working for the people,” said Leona Palazzolo of Detroit, who says she has relied on the friar’s services for seven years. “He’s always got time to listen to you, and he doesn’t ever talk down to you. He’s just real nice to be around.”