Operation Help a Neighbor Out gives winter clothes to Detroit's needy

The Detroit News
Rriana Lyle, 5, of Detroit, looks at winter accessories at the NSO Tumaini Center on Saturday.

Detroit — "I want a purple coat! Purple is my favorite color!" said Tania Brown, 54, first customer in line at the winter clothing drive Saturday morning outside the Neighborhood Service Organization's Tumaini Center. 

Marcus Gleaves, 26, organizer of the Operation H.A.N.O. — Help A Neighbor Out — was able to accommodate Brown's color preference, eagerly handing over the royal purple bubble coat.

Size was a different story.

"It's a kid's coat," he said after taking a closer look.

Brown, who lives at the NSO property and has been without stable housing since 2016, took the coat just the same. If it wasn't a fit for her, surely it would work for one of her six grandchildren.

Gleaves' charity effort is in its third year, and its first under the auspices of his nonprofit, InKredible Solutions. On Saturday, he and several brothers from Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. passed on what could've been a lazy weekend to spread holiday cheer.

The weather cooperated Saturday, with temperatures approaching 40 degrees, headed toward a high of about 43.

"It's kind of weird weather Michigan has, as we know, but tomorrow, it could be 19 degrees and snowing," Gleaves said. "Sunday could be -1 (degrees)."

While the week ahead, including Christmas Day, is expected be similarly warm, unseasonably so for a month in Detroit whose average high is just 36 degrees, when that thermostat does take a turn toward the cold, Gleaves wants his neighbors to be ready.  

InKredible Solutions owner Marcus Gleaves helps Nina Nickerson, both of Detroit, with her new scarf during the 3rd annual Operation H.A.N.O (Help A Neighbor Out) in the parking lot of the NSO Tumaini Center, a nonprofit homeless-recovery facility, Saturday morning.

The human need couldn't be clearer at Third Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Midtown Detroit. People traveled the block on foot or in wheelchairs, dressed for a much colder day, many dragging along the large bags filled with clothing, food, and charitable gifts picked up during their travels.

Brown arrived at the charity drive after stopping by her nearby storage space, which she rents for more than $100 a month, a sum she feels fortunate to afford. 

South of the Tumaini Center, and minutes before Operation H.A.N.O. began, Matt Wallace and Joy Taylor were on a charitable mission of their own, to hand out as many hygiene packages as supplies allowed.

The "Man of Steel Project," as it is called, is in its fifth year, Wallace said, and is done in honor of his friend and former Detroit Police Department colleague Sidney Taylor, who died at 49 in December 2014 after a heart and kidney transplant.

"That first year I wore a Superman onesie, because he loves Superman," Wallace recalled when explaining the name of the project.

The care packages offer a range of survival goodies, including toothbrushes, toothpaste, washclothes, scarves, gloves, lip balm and, for women, feminine hygiene products. Joy and Sidney's daughters, Skye, 19, and Sydney, 15, helped hand out kits to anyone who wanted one. 

Some people, walking north, received hygiene kits, coffee provided briefly by a man at a folding table, and then the winter gear offered by Gleaves. 

"I came here to make sure Christmas came true for my grandkids," Brown said, purple coat in hand.