By Devin Rose
When MacLouis Robinet was a kid growing up in a small Louisiana town during the Great Depression, he was known as the boy who could fix anything. Or, as his parents liked to say, the boy who thought he could fix anything.
"We never threw anything away," said Robinet, who worked in a radio shop back then. He's now retired from a career in physics and has lived in Oak Park for over 40 years.
He's also the organizer behind an effort to start an Oak Park chapter of Repair Café, a free meeting place where residents bring in items to be fixed by a group of volunteers.
The first meeting of the group was held last week at the Oak Park Arms, and a few of the potential volunteers had similar interests and backgrounds.
Marion Kessy, a civil engineer, said he got involved because he's always liked working with his hands. During his childhood in Tanzania, he told the group, he used to construct bicycles from wood. Don Carter was also born during the Depression and said he's used to holding onto aging items, unlike many people today who rush to replace things that break. Another volunteer mentioned recognizing Carter's car, a Model-T convertible.
"That's why we need you here," said Nancy Bauer, another organizer of the Repair Café.
Bauer got interested after reading a newspaper article about the movement that began in 2009 in the Netherlands. According to the New York Times, the Repair Café Foundation raised money through a grant from the Dutch government plus other donations to get the operation started. The article said 30 groups have started Repair Cafes across the country, and Bauer said there are some in the United Kingdom as well.
The concept calls for residents to commit a few hours each month to repair items that people bring in, like fabric, furniture or small household appliances. Organizers will supply the nails, wood glue and other tools and supplies necessary, or volunteers can bring their own. The aim of the café is to keep items out of landfills, Bauer said, but it will also be a social gathering and an opportunity to transfer skills.
"We need to make it clear it's not a drop and run," Bauer said. Instead, the owners of the items will sit with the volunteers to learn how to fix them. The group decided it might be beneficial to get phone calls ahead of time so they can make sure the right people and the right tools are present for particular jobs.
The café will be held at the Oak Park Arms bimonthly and eventually monthly. Robinet said he's talked to some repair professionals in the community who might be willing to help. He and Bauer said they don't want to take business away from local establishments, but some of the people who come to the café may not have the money to get items professionally repaired. Professionals would be welcome to pass out business cards.
They didn't have all the details ironed out by the end of the meeting, but the volunteers decided they'll have to learn as they go. The first Repair Café will be held on Jan. 12 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.