Last Thursday, Jon Bane, age 9, presented a check and cash totaling $352 to Helen Louise Fincher at the hair salon she runs in Belleville.
He also presented a hand-made card asking her to use the money to help the poor.
Fincher runs Bladez on East Huron River Drive, as well as a private mission to the homeless in Detroit’s Cass Corridor.
Last year, about this time, Jon brought a check for $237 to Fincher, the exact amount she needed to pay the insurance due on the bus she uses to take donations to the homeless.
“It was a miracle from God,” Fincher said. “I couldn’t believe it. The exact amount I needed.”
Jon explained, “God called me to help the poor and I thought of the people in Haiti.” Then, he said, he thought maybe there’s “some people in our land to help.”
“So, I had a bake sale,” Jon recalled last year’s project. He sold baked items before and after services at Open Arms Lutheran Church in Van Buren Township. He also took freewill donations.
“Our pastor said, ‘There’s this girl here who helps the poor,’ so we brought the money to her,” Jon said.
He referred to Pastor Jim Richter.
Jon said his brother Ryan, 6, and even his little sister Avery, 2, help with his project.
He said the family bakes cookies, cupcakes, muffins, and bread. His mother makes other recipes she finds in cookbooks and his grandmother makes bread from a recipe handed down from his great-grandmother, he said.
Jon and his mom did the bake sale themselves last year and this year the family and church members joined in to help.
Jon, Ryan, and Avery are the children of Jason and Laura Bane of Westland who attend Open Arms church.
Fincher was so appreciative of Jon’s efforts to help the poor that she called the Independent so the community could learn about this special boy, who she refers to as “Angel for the Homeless.”
Fincher could be classified as an angel, too. She has been helping the homeless in the Cass Corridor for more than two decades and from her own van starting in 1990.
“People actually sleep in boxes,” she explained of the desperate situation.
Fincher’s story begins when she was 3-month-old Helen Louise Collins, living in a roach-infested apartment in the Cass Corridor. Her father was an intelligent man, but he became a drunk and began living on the streets, she said. He actually was going around barefoot at one point and drink finally killed him.
“He died when I was 15,” she said. “He actually used to wring out Sterno to drink… I couldn’t help him because I was young.”
Her mother Edith Collins raised Helen and her two siblings all by herself, working in a factory to earn a living and making sure they had babysitters when she was away. Edith died in 1964 and Fincher cherishes the memory of her hard-working mother.
Helen lived in that area of Detroit until she got married to the boy next door, Marion Fincher. That was 43 years ago. They had three sons, one of whom died of drug use.
They recently adopted two daughters, Michelle and Jennifer.
They live in the New Boston area, but have a Belleville mailing address.
Fincher said her personal project to help the homeless started some 20 years ago when she was attending a Romulus church and a lady asked if anyone wanted to help the homeless.
“Hey, that’s my neighborhood,” she replied. She started to help and hasn’t stopped yet. The woman who started her on the project now is in her 80s.
A bus was donated to the church for Fincher to use in the homeless project. After years of ministering to the poor, she was told the church wanted to do other things and sold the bus.
Fincher said, perhaps, it was God’s way of telling her she should put her efforts in another direction.
But, one of her customers at her hair salon found an advertisement in the paper for a bus for sale for $1,500. The lady gave her $1,500 cash. She bought the bus.
Her husband said if she would change churches, he would attend services with her. The couple now attends Church of God in Belleville.
Fincher ran the Madador Salon in New Boston for 22 years until the building she was renting was slated to be torn down. She came to Belleville and opened Bladez.
She said she doesn’t go around bothering people for donations and leaves it in the hands of God.
People bring her clothes and food for the homeless, which she collects in a room in the back of Bladez. Volunteers help her sort the items.
Then, on the third Monday of every month, between 9:30 and 10 a.m., from 10 to 14 people get on the bus with her to go to the Cass Corridor to distribute the items and visit with the homeless.
She said some businesses won’t donate food because they fear liability, but a submarine shop Downriver gives her hundreds of free subs to distribute to the hungry.
“I walk the streets,” she said, explaining she used to go into the shelters, but they didn’t want her mentioning God and had other rules.
“The Lord told me: ‘Stay on the street,’” she said.
She said the people on the street know her and they all hold hands in a circle and each one tells why they are grateful. Many are familiar faces, but there are always new people, she said.
Fincher said she used to take students from Romulus High School, who went as volunteers to do community service.
She said the Belleville Church of God always pays half of the bus insurance for her, which is due in February. She said Pastor Fred Weaver is very supportive.
Fincher said she plans to put part of the money donated by Jon aside to save for the insurance and the rest to buy socks, caps, and gloves for the homeless.
“You know in this extremely cold weather they could lose their toes,” Fincher said, adding she brings them blankets.
Fincher has no organization, but does her work as an individual, with the help of volunteers, her church, and, of course, God, who sends her what is needed.
And, when she looks at a homeless man in her old neighborhood struggling with alcohol addiction, she sees her father who she couldn’t help as a teenager — and helps the man she can.
Donations of blankets and coats and other warm clothing can be dropped off at Bladez, 601 E. Huron River Dr., Belleville, or call 697-5600 for information on what is needed most.
Editor’s Note: Cass Corridor in Detroit is the area between I-75 at the south and Wayne State University at the north, with Cass Avenue being the main thoroughfare. Cass is west of and parallel to Woodward Avenue.