By James Bash
For the Hollywood Star News
“Peter is a miracle worker,” said Ellen Karas with confidence. She had just opened a box that contained a pizelle cookie maker. “He’ll get this pizelle-maker to work again. I bought it second hand a couple of years ago, but it has never worked. It’s supposed to make these delicious Italian cookies that look like thin waffles.”
Karas had brought her Italian cookie-iron to be fixed gratis by Peter Laughingwolf, a soft-spoken wiry retired fellow, who wielded one of his screwdrivers to take a closer look.
“It might be the thermostat,” said Laughingwolf. “We’ll see.”
“After he gets it working,” Karas said, “I’ll make some pizelles and bring some to him.”
Their exchange was one of many that occurred during an event called the Repair Café, which took place on Saturday, Dec. 13 at the Hollywood Senior Center, 1820 N.E. 40th Ave. All sorts of items were undergoing a rejuvenation of sorts: a space heater, jewelry, pants, jackets, skirts, lamps, a coffee grinder, vacuum cleaners and food processors. Even a nutcracker was undergoing special surgery at the toy hospital station to get his crown reattached. They were all being repaired for free by volunteers who love to make things function and work again.
“We want to keep things from ending up in the landfill,” explained event organizer Cindy Correll, “so we have organized these events, called Repair Cafés, to make that happen. The process is pretty simple. When people arrive, they fill out a waiver that says that we’ll try to fix it, but we can’t make any guarantee. Then they sign up at the registration desk and we assign them a number so the folks are served in order. Then they go to the appropriate station to get their items fixed.”
Repair Cafés are organized by a group called Repair PDX. They are an all-volunteer, grassroots organization that has been sponsoring Repair Cafés throughout the Portland metro area for the past 18 months.
“We’ve discovered that many folks have an emotional connection to their stuff,” added Correll. “They don’t want to throw things away, but they don’t know how to fix them. The skill of repairing is not going away. We’ve got a lot of volunteers who love to tinker and people who have been sewing forever. Now through our Repair Cafes, they have a venue for their skills.”
The idea came from Amsterdam in The Netherlands. That’s where Portlander, Lauren Gross, attended a repair event. She returned home all abuzz and talked it up with members of the Reuse Alliance and other like-minded folks. It wasnt long before they did their first Repair Café.
“Usually we have a dozen volunteer repair people at each event,” noted Gross. “Volunteers bring all of the tools that they will need. They will also teach you, if you want to learn how to repair something. It can become like a bonding experience.”
During busy periods, you may have to wait a little while before your item can be fixed. The Repair Cafes offer cookies, pastries, tea, and coffee – also gratis. Before you know it you’ll hear a bell ring. That signals that an item was successfully repaired.
One elderly couple got their kitchen knives sharpened by Paul Heurich. “I used to work in high tech,” said Heurich, “but I’m glad to be retired from that. I love to sharpen knives, and I meet all sorts of people doing this.”
Jewelry repair was done by Emi Joyce, who learned that skill in her native country of Japan. She shortened a necklace for Alicia Polacok, who works with the City of Portland in the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. “The Repair Café is such a great way for people to think differently about how they manage the stuff in their lives,” remarked Polacok. “It’s wonderful to reuse things again rather than throw them away.”
The next Repair Cafe will take place at Rosa Parks Elementary on Jan. 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., followed by one at David Douglas High School on Feb. 21 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, contact moc.l1503277217iamg@1503277217xdpri1503277217aper1503277217 or take a look at repairpdx.org.
While examining a lamp that didn’t work, one of the volunteers, Bob Riehl, commented, “It’s fun to fix things, but it can be a challenge. Sometimes, you need a little luck.”