Mid-morning on the third Saturday of the month, Sue Coppock is learning how to glue together the drawer of her 1920s high boy, a family heirloom with sentimental value.
As a drop-in “customer” of the Repair Café, which is housed in the Senior Citizens’ Center Lifelong Learning Center at 414 S. Oak Park Ave. in Oak Park, the repair and the advice is free. The expertise flows the dozen volunteer electricians, carpenters, jewelers, seamstresses and general fix-it guys and gals, most of them local seniors who say they have been handy their entire lives.
At a long table is Bob Lempera, 71, “working on this clock. The lady brought in new batteries, so I am thinking that is what she thinks is wrong. All it needs is one battery, and it fits right in there,” says Bob. “Last month we spent about an hour on an old floor lamp, and we were successful. It was this old thing, and it would have probably ended up I don’t know where.”
Nearby Paul Oppenheim is letting the glue set on Coppock’s dresser drawer. He says, “fixing things is like solving a puzzle.”
“I am here to fix anything that needs fixing,” he said, “and today, there are about six or seven of us in here, ready to help out.” Oppenheim is also a running columnist for Wednesday Journal.
Conceived as a way to help people reduce waste while building community, the Repair Cafe concept kicked off in Amsterdam, Netherland in 2009.
It was a New York Times article in 2012 that inspired local co-founders Nancy Bauer and Mac Robinet to launch a Repair Café in Oak Park in 2013, Bauer says.
After a few conversations with the SCC Lifelong Learning Center and some networking and promotional efforts, volunteers with the skill sets needed were solicited and put to work fixing broken toasters, lamps, vacuum cleaners, toys, jewelry, as well as mending and stitching clothes.
“We can’t guarantee that you’ll walk out with a workable item, as we may not have the skills or necessary parts on hand. But we’ll give it our best shot,” Bauer says.
Repairing the faulty wiring on an old hair dryer is Robinet, who took time between tweaks to say that “when we gather together and fix broken things, it changes the way we think about what we own. We do not have an infinite supply of things in the world, so this is one way to address that.”
Across the hall, fixing the broken clasp on a necklace chain is volunteer Pat Koko sharing that “the idea is to encourage the people who come here to learn the process, so the next time they can do it on their own.”
Ready to pay forward what she has learned from Koko, and the seamstresses fixing a tear in her dress is Toyia Baker, 45, from Oak Park.
“I understand that this is about more than just coming here to get items repaired,” she said. “It is about paying it forward and coming here to build community. I had a clasp for a necklace fixed, and they showed me how to do that as well,” she says. “Sometimes you might think these kinds of repairs are much more complicated than they really are, but it just takes a few minutes to do it.”