Connects community with volunteer fixers
On a recent Saturday morning, the Methow Valley Farmers Market is bustling with people who meander past booths of art and pottery, try on shiny new jewelry, and peruse bunches of fresh carrots and radishes. In a quiet corner at the far edge of the market, however, the tables at Methow Recycles’ monthly Repair Café hold an entirely different array of items.
Here, objects show up broken and leave with new life.
At one end of the space, menders work through piles of torn pants and backpacks; at another, fixers sharpen axes and tinker with broken Christmas lights and a busted vacuum cleaner.
The Repair Café is a free event for community members to bring in damaged items to be repaired. The event, which is hosted by Methow Recycles every third Saturday, is driven by over a dozen volunteer fixers who specialize in sewing, tool sharpening, bicycle tune-ups and appliance repairs.
“People get just so excited,” said Aspen Kvicala, Methow Recycles education and outreach coordinator. “It’s amazing what happens when you just open something up, and it’s almost like you give people permission to look at how something works.”
The idea for a Repair Café emerged in 2017, when Methow Recycles identified waste prevention as a priority in its visioning process, Kvicala said. That fall, she began research and outreach to find volunteer fixers in the community.
Dwight Filer has been a volunteer with the repair cafés since their genesis. With 35 years’ experience as a plumber, he’s repaired a wide range of items, from lamps to chairs to radios.
Filer said often, the items that are the most rewarding to repair are the ones with sentimental value. He recalls one Repair Café where he fixed a pair of vintage speakers that had belonged to his friend’s father. With a simple cut into the box of the speaker, he was able to find a loose wire and restore what otherwise might have been rendered useless.
Phoebe Hershenow, another volunteer fixer who focuses on mending and replacing zipper sliders, feels a similar sense of gratification when repairing people’s items of personal value.
“They’re people’s favorite clothes that don’t have value to anyone else that you can fix up and keep going,” Hershenow said.
The recent Repair Café drew over a dozen community members, including Sandra Strieby, who had a pair of loppers straightened, two knives and a pair of pruning shears sharpened and the battery in her watch replaced.
Strieby said she enjoys the way the repair café brings together so many skilled volunteers and allows members of the community to share their tools rather than each individually going out to buy repair supplies. The event also offers an opportunity to fix items rather than sending them to the landfill.
“[It’s] the community coming together to live in a more environmentally sound way,” Strieby said. “Rather than throwing them away, we can continue to use them.”
Kvicala said people who bring their items to be repaired often end up watching fixers do repairs, or sitting down and working on a project alongside a fixer so they know how to do it on their own the next time.
When Kris Sorensen showed up at the Repair Café, he’d never sewn before. Before long, he had a spot at the mending table.
“I’m thinking about going pro,” Sorensen joked, looking up from a pair of work pants he’d begun stitching with some guidance from Molly Filer, a volunteer mender.
Kvicala said the goal of Methow Recycles’ Repair Café is not only to support this kind of shared community learning, but also to address a bigger picture goal of waste prevention.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States generated 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2018, 146.1 million of which ended up in the landfill.
“You just go to landfill, and you just want to throw up,” Filer said. “It’s just real satisfying to fix something rather than see it go to the landfill — fix something that might last another 30 or 40 years or might last longer.”
Kvicala said waste prevention can look like buying fewer items and items that are made to last, and repairing broken items rather than replacing them. She hopes Methow Recycles’ Repair Cafés can encourage people to return to old school values of thrift and repair, and offer people a chance to take one small step toward a more sustainable lifestyle.
“It’s really hard to change behaviors,” Kvicala said. “But what we say at Methow Recycles is, ‘just one little thing at a time.’”