Linda Williams of North Braddock walked into a brightly painted shipping container in a parking lot on Braddock Avenue last week and was immediately greeted by Gisele Fetterman, wife of Braddock Mayor John Fetterman.
"We have a ton of towels today," Ms. Fetterman said. "What color is your bathroom?"
Ms. Williams replied that her bathroom is brown and white, and Ms. Fetterman started leafing through stacks of big, plush towels to find coordinating colors.
Ms. Williams left with a plastic bag full of towels and washcloths. No money was exchanged.
The Braddock Free Store, which opened Oct. 6 in the 400 block of Braddock Avenue, is something Ms. Fetterman has always wanted to do, according to her husband.
"I hate seeing waste," Ms. Fetterman said last week, while sorting through donated items and arranging them in the store.
The nonprofit Braddock Redux partnered with Heritage Community Initiatives and a New York City-based organization called Kids in Distressed Situations, KIDS, to open the store and fill it with clothing for men, women, teenagers, children and babies, and other essentials such as towels, diapers and formula.
The idea for the store is simple: New items are donated from a variety of stores and organizations and given away to anyone who needs them. Ms. Fetterman said the store is intended to serve people who live in the 15104 ZIP code, but no one will be turned away.
"We have an honors system," she said.
Most of the clothes for newborns and toddlers were donated by Carter's Babies and Kids, which has a store at the Waterfront in Homestead.
The store's manager, K.J. Neubauer, said Carter's is involved with the KIDS organization and donates items that can't be sold at the store, such as mismatched pieces and clothes with minor defects.
Ms. Neubauer also runs clothing drives through her store and other local businesses to supplement KIDS donations. She offers discounts to customers who buy something at the Carter's store to donate to the free store.
Ms. Fetterman called Ms. Neubauer a "super supporter," and the pastel blue, yellow, green and red shipping container is marked with a red heart with the letters "KJ" in the middle.
The mismatched clothing finds a home at the Braddock Free Store thanks to AmeriCorps KEYS volunteer Randi Erisman, who seeks out tiny pants and tops in the same size and complementing colors and puts them on a hanger, ensuring the size on the hanger matches the size of the clothes.
In addition to clothes from Carter's, two movies -- "Out of the Furnace" and "One for the Money" -- and one television show -- Nickelodeon's "Supah Ninjas" -- donated their wardrobes to the store after they finished filming.
Dozens of pairs of simple blue canvas shoes were worn by actors in a scene at a jail in "Out of the Furnace."
Jonathan White, 14, of Penn Hills, volunteers his time "to help the mayor's wife." He was sorting through items from the "Supah Ninjas" wardrobe when he came across a pair of black and gold high-top Air Jordans.
"Those were that boy's shoes on Nickelodeon!" he said
The store doesn't have regular hours yet; some shoppers make appointments, others just stop by when they see the doors of the shipping container swung open. If someone arrives and the doors are locked, Ms. Fetterman's cell phone number is posted on the front door.
Ms. Neubauer, who lives in Monroeville, said she was inspired to help after meeting the Fettermans at the Waterfront Carter's store. She described them both as very accessible and hands-on, which makes it easy to volunteer time.
Last week, the store felt full with just a dozen people milling about.
Brenda Peoples of Braddock took clothes and orange towels and bath mats.
"Everything is very nice in here," she mused as she thumbed through shelves of T-shirts. "Very nice."
"Thanks a lot!" she said as she walked out with her bag of clothes and towels.
For more information about the store, visit www.freestore15104.org.neigh_east
Annie Siebert: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.