Sparkt Bridges

Turning Nuisance Bar Into Neighborhood Haven

Couple builds bridges of hope to a hard hit community, and between the neighbors themselves.

This story is part of a bi-weekly series that celebrates people who are reaching across a divide to "build bridges" with those different from themselves. The Sparkt Bridges series is made possible with the support of UPMC.

Mark and Denise Johnston live only 10 miles away from the town of Tarentum, north east of Pittsburgh. But they might as well live 100 miles away. In fact, they admit they didn't give the town much thought until their friend bought a building there seven years ago.

That random event--they would call it divine intervention--has resulted in a ministry that's feeding peoples' bodies, and their spirits. It's building bridges between the volunteers who serve the neighborhood, and the neighbors who live there.

In addition to an every-Monday food pantry and a small free clothing shop, The Streetlight Coffee House holds an event every second Saturday of the month, featuring a family friendly activity and a hot meal. At Easter there's an egg hunt for the kids and a ham and scalloped potatoes dinner. Thanksgiving brings a traditional holiday meal, and at Christmas they serve more than 120 people Christmas dinner and organize a free Christmas shop where parents can shop for their children from among donated toys and books.

The Streetlight Coffeehouse, located at the corner of W. 7th Ave. and Center St. in Tarentum, was once a nuisance bar

The Streetlight Coffee House is supported by Mark and Denise's church, The Church at the Heights in Gibsonia and by Northway Christian Community, headquartered in Wexford. They're not shy about the fact that this is a Christian ministry, but although they hold Bible studies and pray over those who come, they say they do what they do to simply bring hope to people who need it. "They can go to many food banks and get a lot more food," observed Denise. "But I think they keep coming back because of the friendships that they're building."

Mark was a photographer at WPXI TV before he retired and could dedicate himself full time to mission work

If you'd like to volunteer or donate to the Streetlight Coffeehouse, click here to contact Mark and Denise.

The Sparkt Bridges Project is produced with the generous support of UPMC. Life Changing Medicine.

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