With hugs being the form of currency, the Free Store 15104 works to redistribute excess goods to people in need. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 11:00 to 1:00 people gather at 420 Braddock Ave. in Braddock, PA to disburse donated goods like clothing, shoes, toys, household items, and food. Founded in October of 2012 by Gisele Fetterman, the goal of the Free Store is to be useful and to never waste items that can be used by others.
Fetterman was born in Rio de Janeiro and was raised by a single mother. When she was 8 years old she moved to New York and started a new life. In a foreign place where she did not know any English or people, Fetterman witnessed people wasting perfect furniture and goods. Her upbringing instilled a sense of resourcefulness into her that has ultimately influenced the creation of Free Store 15104.
Housed in three decommissioned shipping containers, Free Store 15104 has been embraced within the Braddock community. Residences often gather at the store to catch up with their fellow neighbors, which has created a loving and joyful mood in Braddock. There are people who once took from the store but now return what they can to their community through donations. The only rules at this completely volunteer run establishment is that people take only what you need then pay it forward.
Free Store 15104 has not only touched the lives of people in need, but people who work to keep it running. Fetterman describes the Store “It’s like my happy place”. It gives her a sense of purpose and usefulness. It is very clear that Free Store 15104 will always be apart of Fetterman’s life and and is extremely special to her.
On a hot and sunny Tuesday morning, I met with long term volunteer Shiane Prunty. Having volunteered at the Free Store for three and a half years, Prunty is constantly working to make the Store run smoothly even on the off days. Whether it is transporting furniture or organizing she is extremely driven to bettering her surrounds. Volunteering at Free Store 15104 has also allowed Prunty to become a strong figure in the Braddock community. She mentors mothers and teens through life and is very connected with her neighborhood.
When asked about the overall goal of the Free Store, Prunty commented saying that the goal “is to show that someone cares about you”. The Free Store 15104 shows love to anyone who comes their way and that has rubbed off on other people within Allegheny County. Other free stores are starting to open in different areas like Penn Hills and Wilkinsburg.
Free Store 15104 also has held other events and programs in the past to help improve the community. For example, a gun exchange program was created to take guns out of the community in exchange for free welding training. They have also held free yoga classes for children and posted positive signs with inspiring messages that resemble parking signs along Braddock Avenue.
The objective of Free Store 15104 is to raise awareness regarding wastefulness. Whether is it unwanted food or retail items there is always someone who can benefit from the those items. Giving back in even the smallest ways can influence lives considerably and Free Store 15104 changes lives Braddock residences tremendously.