Helping homeless leaves suburbanites grateful

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Julie Wieleba-Milkie (left), director of religious education at Sacred Heart Parish in Dearborn, puts lids on plastic foam bowls of hot chili Saturday, Feb. 26 during the Peanut Butter and Jelly Outreach near Third Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Detroit.

Sunday Times Newspapers

DETROIT – Handing out food and clothing to the impoverished on a Saturday morning in Detroit’s Cass Corridor has helped several Dearborn residents appreciate what they have — and to put their faith into action.

A long line of people waited patiently in freezing temperatures early Feb. 26 in a snow-covered lot near Third Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard to receive food and other essentials from members of Peanut Butter and Jelly Outreach.

The group, begun more than eight years ago by Deacon Tim Sullivan at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, is supported by a diverse group of volunteers from many metropolitan Detroit suburbs and different faiths who spend Saturday mornings distributing food, clothing and basic social services to Cass Corridor residents in need.

The tax-exempt charity is an ecumenical group and depends on an ever-changing group of volunteers. Some begin as students to fulfill their community service hours, and then continue to volunteer — often with their parents — because they find the experience personally satisfying.

Julie Wieleba-Milkie, a Dearborn resident and director of religious education at Sacred Heart Parish in Dearborn, has brought different groups of teens and their parents to the vacant lot at Third and Martin Luther King one Saturday morning a month since last June.

Locally, those groups have come from places like Divine Child High School and Islamic Institute of Knowledge Mosque in Dearborn, Cabrini High School in Allen Park and Gabriel Richard High School in Riverview. Wieleba-Milkie said she is most moved by the great numbers of people who need help just a 20-minute drive from her church.

“This is the first winter I’ve been doing this,” Wieleba-Milkie said. “It’s amazing to see. You’re trying to give a coat to someone who is shivering, and all they have on is a hoodie. You go away thinking, ‘I really clothed the naked,’ so to speak.”

Wieleba-Milkie said she never will forget the image of a woman she met who was standing in line in the snow waiting for food with just a cast on her foot.

“It was a supercold, really severe cold (day), and she had nothing on her (foot) other than the cast boot,” she said.

Wieleba-Milkie said such images make a lasting impression on the teens she brings to do service work. During the drive back to Dearborn, she said, they express how much more they appreciate what they have at home, and how they had never before seen people firsthand whose needs were so great.

Michael Grasinski, a sixth-grader at Sacred Heart School and a Dearborn resident, has volunteered three Saturdays to hand out food and clothing. He was surprised by how many people come to PBJ Outreach for help, as well as how much the assistance was needed. He also believes the effort to get out of a warm bed early on a cold Saturday morning is worth making.

“Well, they need this,” Michael said. “They need our help.”

He said he volunteers “to help them (and) to see them happy and fed.”

His mother, Cindy Grasinski, said she was surprised by the number of small children standing in line with their parents for food, as well as by the number of pregnant women.

“I just couldn’t imagine trying to have a baby and being homeless,” she said. “What do you do when it’s time for the baby to come?

“Do you have the baby wherever, or do you get to go to a hospital? There’s no one to call to come and get you.”

Grasinski also has begun to notice the unique personalities of the people PBJ helps.

PBJ Outreach helps about 250 to 300 people every Saturday morning. Donations are stored at Our Lady of Good Counsel; pickup service is available. Some food preparation, like sandwich-making, also is done during the week at the parish.

Children’s clothing currently is not needed, but seasonally appropriate clothing for adults always is. Nonperishable food and hygiene items (especially sample sizes) also are needed, as are duffle bags and backpacks for recipients to store items in.

For more information about PBJ Outreach, contact Deacon Tim Sullivan by telephone at (734) 502-1818, or via e-mail at For more information go to

Monetary donations may be sent to PBJ Outreach Inc., P.O. Box 702458, Plymouth, MI 48170, and are tax-deductible. The group is a 501(c)3 charity.