Bonnie DeMotte stepped over a pile of tangled metal on Saturday afternoon inside a former photography business in Sharpsburg and looked at what was left of a restroom.

“This is the entrance, the main entrance from the street. Our vision is to have a huge glass door here so it will feel like you’re outside,” says DeMotte, executive director of what will be known as Second Harvest Community Thrift Store.

“If you want to talk about ‘before and after,’ there’s a lot of ‘before’ here,” the O’Hara resident says, laughing. “It took us a while to get in here and demo. When we’re done, it will be completely wide open. We’re going to expose the beams all around. The idea is everything will be modern, bright, clean.”

DeMotte is part of a massive effort among area volunteers, Sharpsburg officials, contractors and philanthropic professionals who are trying to raise $2 million for the new enterprise on Clay Street.

Second Harvest will sell clothing, furniture and household goods within a 4,000-square-foot retail shop, and will also provide residents with a community gathering space. So far, the group has raised $800,000.

Community advocates started pushing to build Second Harvest in response to the 2018 closing of the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in town. Despite attracting new businesses like Hitchhiker Brewing and Dancing Gnome Brewery, one in three Sharpsburg residents do not own a car and about one in every five live in poverty, officials say. Facing that reality, the town’s thrift store was more than a place to buy inexpensive clothing. It was a lifeline.

“When the St. Vincent de Paul store closed, there was a void there,” DeMotte says. “We thought we could do a 2.0 version — a bigger, better thrift store with a focus on building relationships.”

To that end, Second Harvest is already quite successful, having formed a family of like-minded individuals, including residents and community organizers who didn’t even know each other six months ago.

Among those who have gotten involved is Charles “Chip” Burke, chairman of The Grable Foundation and a resident of Shadyside.

“The community of Sharpsburg has embraced this,” says Burke. “Yes, there are breweries here and everything. But, this work envisions that no one gets left behind.”

He notes that the effort is completely volunteer-led and that when Second Harvest opens, it will offer much more than discounted goods.

“It’ll be more than a store: It’ll provide, clothing, social services and a meeting space for people and nonprofits. It will also be self-sustaining, with any profits going back into the community to serve low-income residents.”

(Left to right) Brittany Reno, Bonnie DeMotte and Chip Burke look over plans for the Second Harvest Community Thrift Store. Photo by Justin Vellucci.

Burke formerly lived in Fox Chapel and sent four of his five children to the Fox Chapel Area School District, one of the more economically diverse districts in the area, with students coming from blue-collar towns like Sharpsburg and Blawnox, as well as leafier ones like Fox Chapel and O’Hara.

“It’s a great story about a community that’s revitalizing itself and making sure that no one gets left behind in the process,” he says.

Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church – whose annual Harvest Fair inspired the name for the center, has helped raise $106,000 for the project. Another 10 congregations from the area also are involved.

T.I. Services of Murrysville is assisting with demolition. One donor contributed solar panels that will cover one-third of the 6,500-square-foot building’s roof and supply it — and others in Sharpsburg — with electricity.

Donations have been big and small — and both carry great meaning, volunteers say.

“A resident of the senior center came up to a board member with an envelope and said, ‘This is so needed. I only have $3 but I want you to have it and do something with it,’” Burke says.

Brittany Reno, another person integral to Second Harvest, is president of Sharpsburg Borough Council and executive director of the Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization.

“First and foremost, we need to make it easier for folks in Sharpsburg to make ends meet,” Reno says “But it’s also a place where people can get together — that’s what it’s all about.”

As DeMotte, Burke and Reno toured the one-story brick building recently, they talked about their visions for the community and the site. As they spoke, someone slipped an envelope into the front door’s mail slot. Inside was another donation.

“It’s just such a feel-good story,” Burke says. “It just has to do with being good neighbors. I’ve never worked on a project that’s captured my heart the way this one does.”

Justin Vellucci

A former news reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, Justin Vellucci currently freelances for a number of Pittsburgh publications and works as a staff writer for the music...