In my “Inspired Pittsburgh Mommy” series, I feature Pittsburgh mothers who have started unique grassroots-type projects within the city. These projects directly benefit the greater good of Pittsburgh and improve the lives of our children, families, and/or other mothers.  The series is my humble effort to create a positive, supportive environment among Pittsburgh mothers.  I hope that it will a) help make these projects a success b) motivate other mothers to help support these projects and c) inspire other mothers to make their own dreams a reality.  An introduction to the series can be found here.

Inspired Pittsburgh Mommy: Gisele Fetterman
Inspired Pittsburgh Mommy: Gisele Fetterman Photo credit: Matthew Hodgman MN

This time in my “Inspired Pittsburgh Mommy” series I am featuring a Pittsburgh mother named Gisele Fetterman.  I first learned about her project, Free Store 15104, from a friend, who asked:

Hey, have you heard of this free store in Braddock?  Everything in the store is completely FREE.  And it’s in a shipping container that’s painted all these crazy colors.

No,” I admitted.  But I was intrigued.  I knew I needed to find out more…

Turns out that Free Store 15104 was founded by a local mother, Gisele Fetterman.  Turns out that she’s the wife of Braddock’s mayor, John Fetterman.  Turns out she’s an amazing, inspiring woman making profound changes in the impoverished borough of Braddock.

I had the honor of interviewing Gisele Fetterman this week and here’s what I found out about her and Free Store 15104 (in her own words):

 

Free Store 15104
Free Store 15104

What is Free Store 15104?

Free Store 15104 is in the business of FREEtail, not retail :).  We operate out of a brightly-painted shipping container in Braddock, PA.  It is a warm and loving place where surplus and donated goods (and food) are redistributed into the hands of those who need them most, at absolutely NO cost.  We aim to eradicate food and clothing insecurity for our most vulnerable neighbors and to help make their lives just a little bit easier.  We believe that wonderful things can happen when we create a space where no currency is exchanged and where we are all equal.

 

freestore5

What specific items are available at Free Store 15104?

The Free Store offers clothing for all ages and sizes, shoes, books, bookbags, delicious gourmet food, toys and smaller kitchen items.  We also can direct shoppers to resources for larger items that may not necessarily fit into our space (mattresses, appliances, furniture).  What distinguishes Braddock Free Store from other resale stores is that it is an entirely FREE store, run entirely by volunteers.  And we are funded 100% by honoraria that my husband, John, makes in his professional position as the mayor of Braddock.

 

Where is Free Store 15104 located? What are its hours?

The shipping container is located at 420 Braddock Ave, Braddock PA 15104.  The shop is open from 1-2:30 on Tuesdays and Thursday and by appointment.  We are also open many Saturday mornings, but it can vary based on the volunteer working that morning.

 

freestore3Who is welcome to use the Free Store? 

Everyone is welcome to come to the shop.  We serve anyone from Braddock residents to residents of Mckees Rocks, Clairton, and City of Pittsburgh.  Our only rules are:

1. Be kind
2. Take only what you need

3. Pay it forward

And, so far, we haven’t had anyone abuse the system.

 

How can people make donations to Free Store 15104? 

To make a donation to the Free Store you can drop your items off during open hours or put them in our drop-off box at any time.  Also, we can always use volunteers. Currently, I’m sorting through 385 boxes of clothes that Gymboree & Crazy 8 sent us!  I’ve never seen so many clothes!  Projects like that would be awesome for larger volunteer groups.

*****

Next, I learned about Gisele’s inspiration for starting Free Store 15104:

 

Why were you inspired to start Free Store 15104?

I remember being in my early teens in NYC, watching bulk garbage days.  Perfectly functioning furniture items would sit on the curb awaiting their destruction.  The garbage truck would come and crush them beyond recognition. The destruction and waste upset me and I’ve long looked to be a small part of a better solution.

 

How did you go about starting Free Store?

I was running unofficial, “pop-up” Freestore events at different locations for several years. However, I longed to make it a permanent project with a permanent location. Taking over an existing building required zoning and permits and water and a slew of other expenses.  On the other hand, a shipping container offered a sustainable, affordable option that we could park in a vacant lot and begin operating the next day.  And we did just that!

 

freestore4

What has been the MOST fulfilling part of Free Store 15104 for you?

In general, seeing the decline in food and clothing insecurity in my community.  Watching a group of children at the playground, fully clothed in Free Store attire.  In particular, this winter when we were very worried about our youth keeping warm.  We received a large hat, glove, and scarf donation from Osh Kosh B’Gosh.  I left a bag filled with these items with each of our crossing guards to distribute every day.   It was amazing to see the kids walking home warm in their new winter gear.

 

Positive parking sign initiative in Braddock
Positive parking sign initiative in Braddock

Are you working on other projects in Braddock, too?

I try to always have a few things in the works to keep me busy!  Shortly after opening, we partnered with Brian Sink (previously of FreeRide Pittsburgh) and created the Red Lantern Bike Shop.  We receive used and/or broken bikes that Brian refurbishes and redistributes to our local youth.  We hope to continue to grow and expand into other salvage/ save/ recycle opportunities that will further improve quality of life.  I’m also working to expand my positive parking sign initiative through the side streets in Braddock. Longer term projects: I’m working on a blight-weed tea brewing project, disposable diaper recycling, a Braddock Breastfeeds initiative project and some abandoned tire furniture projects as well!

*****

Finally, I learned a little about Gisele’s personal/professional life balance:

 

How old are your children?

I have a 5 year old son named Karl, a 2 1/2 year old daughter named Grace, and I’m 39 weeks pregnant with my third!

 

How do you manage the balance between your professional and personal lives? 

Our children are involved and included in all the work that we do.  When my husband has overlapping commitments during Free Store hours, you’ll often find the children working with me at the store.  Karl loves hanging clothes and bagging clothes for shoppers.  Grace loves pulling all the shoes off the shelf, ahhhh!  John is incredibly supportive and makes at least three trips a week to COSTCO to personally pick up all the donated food to be distributed at the store.

*****

The Braddock Youth Garden
The Braddock Youth Garden

Earlier this week, I drove to Braddock to spend the afternoon with Gisele. I could feel her presence even before I reached Free Store. I felt it as I passed Braddock Farms, an organic community farm that she and her husband created with the help of Grow Pittsburgh.  I felt it as I passed quirky street signs that reminded me, “Believe in Yourself.” I felt it as I passed colorful murals, public art installations, new commercial construction, brand new housing developments.  I felt hope.  And I just knew she’d had a hand in it all…

And then I met her.  Smiling, warm, busy, capable…. VERY pregnant.

I think I’m having contractions,” she told me matter-of-factly, as she scurried around Free Store.  Her contractions didn’t stop her.  I don’t think anything could…

gisele12

I spent some time observing a typical afternoon at Free Store 15104.  Fun music played loudly from a stereo in a car parked nearby. Racks of beautiful, clean, children’s clothing were set up in the space outside of Free Store. They were sifted through carefully by local mothers and grandmothers.  Free snacks were passed out to all the kids.  Karl, Gisele’s son, played with donated toys splayed out near the entrance. People came and went, smiling, laughing, talking eagerly to Gisele and her troupe of volunteers.  There was so much love.  A shared sense of purpose. An openness.  Generosity.

I know that Braddock is considered one of the poorest communities in Western PA.  And yet, at Free Store 15104 it just didn’t feel that way….

Meeting Gisele Fetterman and visiting Free Store 15104 was definitely one of my personal highlights since starting this blog.  I think she is one of the most amazing people that I have ever met.  I have no doubt that her influence will be felt in Braddock, the rest of Pittsburgh, and much further for a very long time….

Thank you, Gisele, for all of the work you are doing to help local families!

*****

Want to connect with Free Store 15104?  Here are links to its website and Facebook page.  And here’s its email address: freestore15104@gmail.com

Also, here are links to previous media coverage of the Free Store in:

Pop City Media

Post Gazette

WPXI

© Copyright 2014 Nadine Champsi, All rights Reserved. Written For: The Pittsburgh Mommy Blog
Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi

2 Comments on Inspired Pittsburgh Mommy: Gisele Fetterman and Free Store 15104

  1. I just love how Gisele is integrating the entire community to solve the problem–activating the crossing guards to hand out warm things to kids is so genius! What a visionary.

    • Couldn’t agree more, Katy. I’m so inspired by this woman and her common sense, grassroots approach to solving problems. Plus, she’s just so NICE! I can’t wait to become a part of this project!