Twenty-thousand people once lived in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Now there are 2,000.
Gisele Baretto Fetterman, the only Latina in a sea of black women, stands in a cheerfully painted former shipping container in the parking lot of an abandoned nuisance bar, directing customers toward the supplies.
Outside the shipping container, a cheery sign marks the entrance to “The Free Store,” which fills the needs of those living in a town whose once-important place in American history is now largely forgotten. It also gives those people more optimism than they have seen in a generation.
Her husband, Mayor John Fetterman has worked hard not to make the town what it used to be but, instead, to revitalize it into something that gives hope to its majority-black, impoverished citizenry.
He focuses on bringing in new industry, such as a medical marijuana plant that is currently under consideration. He was also instrumental in getting a brewery, a tavern, and several reestaurants to locate here. Little by little, he’s also removing the blight that plagues Braddock’s once-majestic Main Street.
Meanwhile, Giselle focuses on healing hearts and restoring self-respect. In 2012, she founded The Free Store, which she stocks with donations provided by local businesses and residents wanting to make a difference.
“But there is also faith,” she said. “Faith in each other, faith in God, no matter where you worship, and faith that together we can make Braddock whole.”