A café where the “fixin’s” are the menu

May 02, 2024 at 11:15 am by Observer-Review

Sewing a pair of jeans
BY Karen Gadiel
The community room at the Montour Falls Fire Company hummed with hope and ingenuity Saturday, April 20, as people entered carrying some of their favorite battered, much-loved and broken belongings to a group of volunteer expert fixers. The workers sat at tables around the room’s perimeter, waiting for a chance to restore these treasured items to life.
The Repair Café, part of a worldwide sustainability movement, offered free consultations and repairs whenever possible, to extend the lives of much-loved lamps, electronics, stuffed animals and more. It keeps things useful and out of landfills, not only saving money for their now-happier owners but also helping to make the planet more sustainable. And also, incidentally, demonstrating to a generational mix of people accustomed to this era’s throw-away culture that alternatives are possible.
This event was the first of two local Repair Cafés, jointly sponsored by the sustainability committees of the village of Montour Falls and the town of Hector, both fully accredited as “climate smart” communities, which not only improves community life but also opens the door to grants and other opportunities to increase sustainability while decreasing their carbon footprint.
Early on, Wendy Wirth, who like all the “repair coaches” had volunteered her time to help out, repaired a plush stuffed doggy brought in by a child, who afterwards loaned his pet to the welcome table at the entry.
Stephanie Levy of Watkins Glen brought her much-loved electronic Scrabble player’s dictionary. She could neither fix it nor replace it when its on/off switch broke. Kyle Colunio fearlessly took it apart and analyzed the problem with the diminutive gadget, calling in Mike Kartychak to consult when the problem was identified and the fix proved elusive. They tested and tried various methods to get it to work.
“Mike and Kyle were so fabulous!” Levy said later. “They worked so hard trying to get it fixed.” The verdict was that the teensy switch could not be replaced, but they came up with a workaround for her to continue enjoying the game.
Margaret Ball, a Reading Center native whose business, “Thread Lightly Sewing” is based in Ithaca, was patching clothing with a sewing machine, sitting next to Val Carocci who had a tattered tablecloth waiting to be improved upon and a plush bumblebee in need of hand stitching. “I have the skills,” Ball said. “A lot of people don’t.” And when Carocci was asked why she volunteered to spend her morning mending, she shot back, “Why not?”
“I never know where to go to get something fixed,” said Jackie Gublo, who sat at a table with her favorite lamp. John Herbert, after evaluating the lamp, realized it needed a new switch. Gublo went off to get the part. When she returned, he re-wired it and completed the repair.
Ed Arnold, who says, “I’ll fix anything mechanical,” is retired from working on huge industrial scales. By coincidence, his first “customer” was someone whose electronic bathroom scale needed rewiring.
In addition to the repair experts, Eric Holter of Almosta Apiary was there to talk about honeybees—and sometimes their removal from house walls, one of his least-favorite bee activities, though sometimes necessary. Courtney DeRusha, of C.E. DeRusha Masonry LLC, talked to homeowners about DIY home repairs and what to look for when hiring a contractor is the more realistic option. Finger Lakes Area Counseling & Recovery Agency had a central table to talk to those interested about NARCAN, a medication used to save lives by reversing some of the effects of opioid overdose and brought 75 units to dispense.
And in keeping with the café theme, there was healthy food available, donated by vendors and area businesses. In all, between 50 and 100 people showed up bearing things in need of repair. Organizer Nancy Doniger said she was “Very pleased with the turn-out. It was steady all day. And the generosity of everyone who contributed…”
The Repair Café idea originated in Amsterdam, then expanded to become an international movement. It’s a way coaches can help their neighbors by repairing, or teaching others the hands-on skills they need to repair household goods that otherwise might be discarded. Clothes, furniture, electronic items, bicycles, small appliances and jewelry are among the items that might be brought in—one per “customer,” which means people have to evaluate and choose the item whose usefulness is most important to them. They receive advice, sometimes hands-on instruction on how to repair something similar in the future, and sometimes a referral to another repair person. It’s an inter-generational neighbors-helping-neighbors enterprise that improves lives, keeps stuff out of landfills, builds community and helps the bottom line.
For the community of Montour Falls, it has additional significance. Mayor James Ryan, working with the sustainability committee, coordinated by Doniger, says the community has turned a corner in sustainability, having recently won two substantial grants for being both a clean energy community and a climate smart community. “We’re the regional leader,” he says.
A second regional Repair Café is scheduled for June 1 in Hector. Keep watching for information on future events.
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