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Home Meet the Neighbors Gisele Fetterman

Gisele Fetterman

Founder
The Free Store

Gisele FettermanGisele FettermanGisele FettermanGisele FettermanGisele FettermanGisele Fetterman

      

  • Name: Gisele Fetterman
  • Where I'm From: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Where I Live: Braddock
  • Education:
    License in holistic nutrition from Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, N.Y.
  • Company:
    The Free Store



“Moving to Pittsburgh was one of the best decisions I ever made."

Born in Brazil but raised in New York City and northern New Jersey on modest means, Gisele Fetterman (then Almeida) was astonished the first time she saw perfectly useful furniture put out on a curb with trash. 

“Back home, if something broke, you fixed it. If paint chipped, you repainted,” she recalls. “We had no furniture at home and here was perfectly good furniture being sent right into a landfill.  Our first apartment was entirely furnished with items found on the curb.“ 


While working as a holistic nutritionist around issues of food justice in in Harrison, N.J. and later Newark, Gisele organized pop-up events to distribute free furniture and other non-perishables gathered from both individuals and businesses, sometimes in stores that were closing and also unloading their goods and furnishings. She would partner with organizations that could help get those goods to people who needed them.
 
In 2007, she read one of the many national profiles about John Fetterman, the unlikely mayor of the economically depressed former steel town of Braddock. Originally from Reading, Pa., Fetterman had landed in Braddock 12 years earlier as an AmeriCorps volunteer helping kids earn their GED. He stayed on and helped to develop programs for young people, helping them with issues involving family, social agencies and police. The striking 6’8” civic leader was notable for – among other things -- his tattoos of the dates of homicides in Braddock during his mayoralty. 

“I wrote a letter to the borough asking how I could get involved. I saw so many similarities to Newark: a one-time industrial giant that once made massive contributions to the United States, and had become a place of want and need. It felt unjust.” 

Gisele visited Braddock to learn more about various initiatives to help its residents. Then she visited again. Then John visited her in Newark. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Gisele said she moved to the Pittsburgh region determined to listen to the community, to understand what long-time residents needed and wanted. “It’s not just about the stuff, but about working with people, with building trust.” A few pop-up Free Store events followed, some targeted to offer clothing to school kids. The problem of hunger in “food deserts” in places like Braddock – where well-stocked grocery stores are few – led to the creation of the Free Store in Braddock in 2012, and later 412 Food Rescue, of which she is a co-founder. 412 Food Rescue deploys an army of part-time volunteers via a smart-phone app to pick up and deliver food on short notice from organizations with extra to food banks and pantries around the region. Designed for its scalability, a 724 Food Rescue has just launched for Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

“Without a doubt, all of this was easier to do here than in Newark. They have a mountain of approvals that you have to get, and you never really feel like you’re making a dent. In Pittsburgh, you can have an impact.”

Other Free Stores are located in East Liberty, Penn Hills, Wilkinsburg and Erie, with others planned for Clairton and McKeesport. While some are located in community centers and churches, the Braddock location is in a decommissioned international shipping container. 

Her newest venture is the nonprofit For Good PGH, which she co-founded to develop and implement initiatives that promote diversity and inclusivity. Its first project, Hello Hijab!, makes Barbie-compatible headscarves for dolls to better reflect the diversity of the real-life women. 

Free time is spent with John and their kids -- August, 3; Grace, 5 and Karl, 8 -- at Phipps Conservatory, the North Shore’s Water Steps and Children’s Museum (“one of the best in the country”), theater in the city’s Culture District downtown, or at playgrounds and parks. Grace in particular is partial to the Pirates, despite their iffy seasons. Karl runs track and can be found in one the city’s many green spaces.

“There is so much to explore in Pittsburgh, and we take full advantage of it. 

“Moving to Pittsburgh was one of the best decisions I ever made. It is such a beautiful city -- with rich history and wonderful people -- that has something for everyone. There is no city like Pittsburgh. Accessible, affordable, welcoming and proud.”