Albert Mascia, known to many as “Brother Al,” arrived in Detroit in August 2007 from Cincinnati, where he’d worked at the Canticle Cafe, “a coffee shop for the poor and homeless” in the downtown area. Here, he began working at the Franciscan Warming Center, inside a building downtown, owned by the Arch Diocese of Detroit, where he helped distribute warm items (many handmade), food and hygiene kits to needy and homeless individuals downtown near Washington.

Later, with his invention of the bicycle cart (three to be exact), they were able to hand deliver the items. “The bicycle carts became the means by which we were able to deliver Franciscan hospitality — deli food, clothing, hand warmers, hats and scarves,” says Mascia. “In the summer time, we deliver some of the same things. Socks and T-shirts are always needed. We also serve cold beverages, coffee, oatmeal, and soup made by two Jewish synagogues.”

As time wore on, the building they were working out of began showing signs of wear and tear. “It became physically unsound,” says the Franciscan friar. So they moved to a former convent, now known as the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace, at 2599 Harvard in Berkley. And, in place of bicycle carts, they use a van, named the Care’avan by Mascia and the other two founding members of the institute — husband and wife Steve Klaper and Mary Gilhuly of Oak Park. The van, donated by Prezio Health, enables them to serve not only Detroiters, but persons in the tri-county region, as well.

The move brought about more awareness of what Mascia calls an interfaith undertaking. He says, “Since coming to Berkley and making more suburban contacts, the number of (donated) handmade warm items has increased tremendously. I think many people who are becoming aware of what we do want to do something to help, but perhaps they are not able to physically volunteer, so they want to help by personally creating something with their hands, and know that the item is directly going to comfort and serve someone in need.”

While many of the handmade items they distribute are knitted, woven or crocheted, others are sewn using fleece fabric. Mascia says he can provide a sewing pattern for a fleece hat, either electronically or by mail, but it may take a while because they don’t have a staff.

Mascia resides at the Song and Spirit Institute on the second floor above the institute, along with three other friars and three lay volunteers who help run the building. Among them are an 83-year-old candlemaker and Greg Allen, 49, who works as Mascia’s outreach assistant and shares driving duties for the Care’avan.

To help the institute continue its efforts, items needed are hand and toe warmers (the kind that generate heat when shaken), gloves, mittens, scarves, hats, money, gift cards, breakfast and protein bars, fruit cups, small juice or milk boxes, plastic spoons and napkins. Donations should be mailed to: Song and Spirit Institute for Peace, Attn: “Brother Al,” 2599 Harvard, Berkley 48072.

Detroit News Staff Writer Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150 or For more craft news and giveaways, visit her blog at

Contact Song and Spirit Institute for Peace at (313) 320-0548, or email

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