Jacinta Synnott: good works in a low-key way

Layton Avenue resident Jacinta Synnott received this year’s Mt. Lebanon Community Service Award for her work collecting abandoned bikes for repair.

Trash day is Jacinta Synnott’s least favorite day of the week. “My least favorite day because of the waste,” she said. But it would particularly stick in her craw when she’d see a perfectly usable bicycle set out on the curb with the rest of the junk. Thinking there had to be a place that fixed up and donated old bikes to kids who need them, she started searching the internet and found an article about Pittsburgh Police distributing unwanted bikes that were fixed up by Kraynick’s Bike Shop in Bloomfield.

Synnott started grabbing bikes put out for trash and taking them to Kraynick’s. Before long, family and friends were in on the action, letting her know if they saw a bike on a curb, or they donated old bikes of their own. Synnott eventually created a spreadsheet to keep track of all the bikes she was transporting to Kraynick’s in her husband’s work van, and since she started totaling the numbers in April 2020, she’s rescued an astonishing 325 bikes that have been refurbished and given to kids who might otherwise not have one.

A 1970s Mt. Lebanon bicycle license plate adorns the rear of a donated bike collected at Jacinta Synnott’s recent bike collection event.

It’s a feel-good story, though admittedly small in scale. But Synnott, who lives on Layton Avenue, specializes in finding little ways to better the lives of those around her. As a result, the municipality’s community relations board has awarded her Mt. Lebanon’s 2022 Community Service Award, given out annually to a Lebo resident who consistently volunteers their time to give back to the community.

“You don’t have to do something huge that’s a big commitment,” Synnott said, describing the ways she attempts to lend a hand. “For example, you can go give blood. And then you never have to do it again, or you can do it 10 times a year. You don’t have to make a big commitment to help a little bit.”

Donating blood (well, platelets to be exact) is definitely something Synnott does, but her volunteer work isn’t just limited to blood and bikes. She helps tend South Hills Interfaith Movement’s vegetable garden and after the harvest, works at one of its pantries or events to help get the food to the people who need it. Additionally, she makes a weekly delivery for 412 Food Rescue, picking up food donated by the Canonsburg Shop ‘n Save and delivering it to Washington County Christian Outreach.

Synnott also has been teaching English to a married couple from Afghanistan who moved to the Pittsburgh area without being able to speak or read the language. She began working with them via Zoom during the pandemic, but more recently has been able to meet in person twice a week. Synnott said these sessions, which were arranged through Literacy Pittsburgh, are particularly rewarding because she gets to learn about the couple’s culture at the same time they’re learning English. Recently, they brought her some leftover Afghani-style rice-and-lamb soup to try. “They shared their dinner with me!” Synnott exclaimed. “So it’s personal interaction and sharing cultures—the learning goes both ways.”

Synnott has lived in Mt. Lebanon for nearly 60 years now. Her parents emigrated to the states from Ireland before she was born, and the family ended up in Mt. Lebanon when she was a child. She lives with her husband, Tim McDonald. Synnott was an IT employee at U.S. Steel before retiring in 2019.

Her friend, Renee Very, who met Synnott when they both went to Mt. Lebanon High School, nominated her for the service award. When asked why Synnott was an ideal candidate, Very replied, “For as long as I have known Jacinta she has been a kind soul who has always done quiet deeds to make the world a better place for others.”

No doubt, everyone who has ever ended up with a free bike to ride thanks to her would agree.

Photography by John Schisler