Dear Diary,

Growing up, my parents taught my sister and I to love our neighbors. I never heard those exact words until I read it in the Bible. Rather, my mother and father demonstrated the meaning of the instruction by committing random acts of kindness. My mother, an avid cook and shopper, delivered dinners, clothes and toys to countless friends and family members. My father shoveled neighbors’ driveways, raked leaves and gave payday loans, always treating the CEO and the custodian exactly the same. Although retired, my father still commits amicable acts, most recently loading his truck with free store donations–picture a consignment store minus the price tags for neighbors in need.

Now that I’m a mom, I want to pass my parents’ instructions along to my little girl, who I love to the moon and back.


That’s one reason why I decided to open Free Store Penn Hills. Located in the Lincoln Park Community Center, the same place my grandmother and father attended elementary school, the free store aims to address the recent rise in suburban poverty, spread love and empower the community. Fellow founders— Tamara Cox, Janica M. Estes, Jesse Marie Haskins, Deborah McKenzie and Fawn Washington—supported the effort and helped set up the store.



We sought to create a space that gave shoppers a sense of dignity and respect. To do so, we teamed up with At Home’s newest store in Pittsburgh located at 3000 McIntyre Square Drive. The 91,000 square-foot retail destination allows customers to affordably turn their house into a home, and the major donation allowed Free Store Penn Hills to create a warm, welcoming space. Fellow Penn Hills alum and HGTV Design Star Finalist Luca Paganico offered his styling expertise. Our theme–love!


Highlights of the store include a children’s corner, where kids can attend story time and participate in arts and crafts classes.


They can also interact and add their art to the murals painted by local artists JaQuay Walker Taylor and Deborah McKenzie. A resource shelf will be a fixture in Free Store Penn Hills, providing valuable and timely information to the public.


Here’s how can your family commit a random act of kindness.

Attend the Grand Opening

Come out to meet your neighbors this Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Lincoln Park Community Center. Following the dedication ceremony, drop off donations, shop the store or enjoy refreshments provided by The Cupcake Crew  and Frankstown Road Giant Eagle. The Consumer Health Coalition and Healthy Together Mascot Enroll-o-bot will be on site to help families enroll in quality, affordable health insurance. Children’s activities include arts & crafts, a face painter and stories–books provided by Reading is Fundamental (RIF).

Donate to the Free Store

Free Store Penn Hills distributes everything from clothing and books to toys and toiletries. Solicited donations include books, book bags, clothing, diapers, home décor, luggage/purses, school supplies, school uniforms, toiletries, toys and games. Due to safety concerns, we’re unable to accept cribs, car seats, furniture or other items subject to a recall. Personal items, including bedding, pajamas, toiletries and undergarments, must be in new packaging.

Grant a Wish

On Saturdays, the store will host the Confident Kids Craft Club. We need the community’s support to purchase art supplies. Click here to buy something from our Amazon Wish List. Free Store Penn Hills will also offer interactive and educational workshops for families, such as financial literacy programs and breastfeeding information sessions. Interested facilitators can contact me at

Buy a Gift Card

The ribbon-cutting ceremony for At Home’s Pittsburgh store will take place Friday, November 18 at 9 a.m. You can add a gift card to your holiday shopping list to donate to Free Store Penn Hills, or pick up one of the 50,000 unique items to make the holidays a bit brighter for a neighbor in need. Click here to check out how we went shopping with families from Free Store Braddock last year!
Hey DFTM Fam–How are you committing acts of kindness with your family?
Be sure to follow the Free Store Penn Hills and At Home on social media! Tag your photos using #LoveYourNeighbor
Thank you to our sponsors and resource partners! Resource partners include Aiu3 Family Support Centers, Allegheny County Library Association, Allegheny Family Network, Consumer Health Coalition, Cribs for Kids, Gems from Joy Ministries, Family Resources, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, Kidsburgh, PNC Grow Up Great, Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR), Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children( PAEYC), Reading is Fundamental (RIF), Ready Freddy, University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Child Development, UPMC and more. Additional sponsors include Guardian Storage, the Rug Lab Carpet Cleaning, Simmie’s Restaurant, S-Spa, Swade Welding and the Wheel Mill.

Disclosure: At Home sponsored the interior design of Free Store Penn Hills by providing a very generous gift card.

About The Author

Vlog Mom/DFTM Creator

Not long ago, Heather Hopson hosted a television show in the Cayman Islands. Today, she's back home writing a different kind of story as a new mom. In her 15 years working as a professional journalist, this by far is her best assignment! Growing up, she dreamed of becoming Oprah Winfrey. She was the features editor for her school’s newspaper and a teen talk show host for her city’s most popular radio station. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Michigan State University. After graduation, she worked as a television producer and reporter at CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates throughout the U.S. Instead of heading to Chicago to join Ms. Winfrey on her set, she bought a plane ticket to the Cayman Islands instead. She arrived five days before a category five hurricane! She lived in paradise for seven years, hosted an award-winning television show and traveled the globe with a government delegation. She also served on the board of directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters and spearheaded a Send a Kid to Camp campaign. Then, she relocated to Washington, D.C. to obtain a teaching certification and instruct 8th grade reading at a high needs middle school. She later returned to her hometown of Pittsburgh, PA to raise her daughter Caitlynn, now 4-years-old. During her 10-month-stint as a stay-at-home mom, Caitlynn inspired her to create this blog, and Diary of a First Time Mom was born on Mother’s Day 2012. Two years later, she expanded the family to include 20+ writers. Currently, Heather serves as the communications director at Allies for Children. In addition, she is the owner of Motor Mouth Multimedia, which ranked #49 in Startup Nation’s Home-Based 100 Competition sponsored by Discover Card and Sam’s Club. Recently, The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments selected Heather to receive an Emerging Black Artist award to develop Diary of a First Time Mom.

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