When Larry Oleinick, the founder of Heart 2 Hart Detroit (H2HD), handed out his first package of food to a homeless man in Detroit’s Hart Plaza this past summer, it didn’t just feel right; it also felt familiar.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s at Passover, the living room in the Oleinick’s Oak Park home became an assembly line for creating care packages — with donated matzah, fruit and macaroons — for Jewish people living in Detroit.
The annual matzah delivery project was started by Oleinick’s father, Milton, working with the late Rabbi Solomon Gruskin of the Congregation B’nai Zion shul in Oak Park. Those Passover pilgrimages were Downtown not far from where Oleinick ventures now, three times a week, during the summer heat and the winter freeze to feed, clothe and connect with the city’s less fortunate.
“My dad taught us the importance of tzedekah, of giving back, of helping out anyone in need,” says Oleinick. “And my mom, Cru, had a heart of gold and would lend an ear to anyone who wanted to talk. What I am doing through Heart 2 Hart Detroit is an extension and a way of honoring what I learned from my folks.”
These days, Oleinick, with help from friends and relatives Ken Levy, Jeffrey Markowitz, Mark Jacobs, Harriet Kirsch, Allan Oleinick and Bill Briggs, is reaching out to a broader community than Jewish people in need. They are acting upon the fundamentally Jewish principle of tikkun olam — repairing the world — to help address Detroit’s homeless issue.
“We now hand out a dozen to 18 lunches three times a week on the streets in Downtown Detroit. I know what we are doing doesn’t solve the problem,” says Oleinick. “But if we hand food to one person that hasn’t eaten that day, or give a coat to someone who is living under the expressway overpass in the freezing cold, I know we are doing something worthwhile.
“Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity, and we do that with each package we hand out and each individual we look in the eye and ask if they need shoes or socks or underwear.”
Oleinick also knows that building partnerships with individuals, businesses and organizations is the best way to have a real impact on the homeless situation. That is why his family, cousins, childhood friends and local suburban businesses and organizations like the Detroit Pistons, Tappers, the Shirt Box and Superior Materials Holdings have all come on board with the H2HD mission and have supported its work. H2HD is also networking with B’nai B’rith Great Lakes Region and the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue for contributions of clothing and toiletries and programming possibilities.
With its 501(c)(3) status in the works, H2HD, along with its board of directors, is looking to expand the mission to include more daily deliveries of lunches and clothing. Since it began in June, H2HD has distributed more than 1,000 lunches and given away more than 250 each of coats, new socks and new underwear.
“I’m proud to be a part of H2HD and offer any support I can to help them fulfill their goals of feeding and clothing Detroit’s homeless,” says Mark Jacobs of Farmington Hills, chairperson of the H2HD board of directors and also a childhood friend of Oleinick’s. “I’ve gone to Africa to help provide clean drinking water to people, but when I made the delivery Downtown with H2HD, I saw the profound needs that exist in our own backyard.”
Oleinick adds, “For me, Passover will always be a time to be with my family and to give to others. This year’s deliveries won’t have matzah in them, but they still represent the L’dor Vador tradition started by my father that I am proud to continue all year long through Heart 2 Hart Detroit.”
For more information on how to contribute or get involved with Heart 2 Hart Detroit you can visit the website at www.h2hd.org.
By Lori Dube|Special to the Jewish News