It’s Neighborhood Table night in Sharpsburg, and about 60 people are packed into a former Main Street shop to eat fried chicken, salad and Italian bread. Dozens of Styrofoam dessert plates are waiting on carts in the back room.
Scores of Sharpsburgers, many of them over 50, regularly show up to the free event at the Roots of Faith center for the first three Thursdays of each month. Not only are they given meals, but they’re also offered free services: some nights it’s a medical screening from UPMC St. Margaret; sometimes it’s a legal clinic from local law firms.
“So, this evening, actually it’s Highmark, and they’re going to be having a Better Health Clinic here for the community that’s free,” said Kathleen Lipinski of Roots of Faith.
Lipinski is the woman bringing all these free services to the table in Sharpsburg. She said Roots of Faith simply asked the residents of Sharpsburg what they need, and now she uses the community dinners as a chance to provide them.
“Those were two areas that they needed a lot of help with: health care and legal issues," Lipinski said. "And what a perfect place, because we get anywhere up to 150 people that walk through this door on a Thursday, so this is the place to go.
"It’s not intimidating. It’s not hard. They just walk in, and they’re welcome, and we feed them. It’s like a family dinner with benefits.”
Lipinski also runs the "Circles Sharpsburg" anti-poverty program, which is working to bring a grocery store back to the community.
“Sharpsburg’s a food desert," Lipinski said. "We have no grocery store here that is convenient or affordable for this community. So, this group of 15 people put together a 64-page feasibility study -- complete with pictures, which I like -- and went up to the corporate headquarters in Saxonburg and presented it to Aldi’s. That’s what it’s all about.”
Lipinski said she’s had many memorable moments in her time at Roots of Faith, but the most powerful came when a man walked into the free medical clinic complaining of leg pain.
“They immediately saw that it was urgent," Lipinski said. "I think the doctors and one of the nurses put him in their own car and took him up to St. Margaret’s and saved his life. He had a life threatening blood clot. If he had not come in that night, we may not have seen him again."
In an Allegheny River borough where one-quarter of the 3,400 residents are living in poverty, Roots of Faith Pastor Ben Phipps says Lipinski has become something of an institution.
“I think Kathleen is exactly the right person that Sharpsburg needed," Phipps said. "This town has embraced Kathleen in a powerful and incredible way. She is definitely known by her first name only around Sharpsburg.”
Lipinski is humble about her contributions to Sharpsburg, crediting her faith.
“You know, God’s making a difference on this corner, and in this community through us. It’s not me; it’s not Ben. We’re the tools that he’s using to make a difference here," she said.