Don’t Toss It – Repair It

Oak Park’s volunteer-run Fix-It Café keeps all sorts of goods, from the sentimental to the pragmatic, out of landfills

Once a month, volunteers in a tight-knit Sacramento community get together to hang out, chat with their neighbors, and help repair everything from clothing to toasters to bicycles.

The Oak Park Fix-It Cafe is a grassroots effort to keep worldly possessions out of landfills—and it has been one of the most immediately rewarding ways that I spend my spare time. As a CalRecycle employee who believes in the goals of our department, the Oak Park Fix-It Cafe is yet another way I get to “walk the walk.”  

On our opening day last May, the small appliances section fixed nine lamps! A vintage 20-inch fan had its bearings pulled out and the worn-out electrical cord replaced. Volunteers in our bicycle corner offered tune-ups and tire patches. You can even patch the tire to your wheelbarrow—we’ll show you how. 

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I’ve been volunteering in the sewing corner for most of these repair cafes. I sewed a sleeve back onto the shoulder of a Hawaiian shirt, and I taught a teenager to use a sewing machine to repair her mother’s ripped jeans. I started sewing three years ago, and I love using this skill to bring together my community and help the environment. Unlike the generations before me who learned to sew starting in junior high “home economics” classes for their future homemaker lifestyles, I have learned what I know about sewing from my mother, grandmother, and Pinterest.

When I learned that the clothing manufacturing industry is the second most polluting industry after oil refineries, it blew my mind. When we buy the latest low-quality fashions for less than a workweek lunch, we are contributing to pollution. I want to teach people how to sew that cardigan button back on, turn those outdated bell-bottoms into hip skinny jeans, and make vintage prints and thrift store finds into wearable outfits. It’s fun, and in a small way we are helping the environment. 

If we do not immediately know how to fix something, we can learn! At our second meeting, the small appliances group watched a YouTube video to learn how to fix the timing mechanism on a sewing machine. The inside of a sewing machine is not for the faint of heart. With some tinkering and tenacity, as a team we saved the machine for its owner to continue crafting.

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If we ultimately can’t fix it, we want people to try a professional. Repair cafes are not likely to compete with professional repair.  People who can afford to buy higher-quality items and have them repaired usually do.  Manufacturing of many items has become so inexpensive that buying a lower-quality item new is often cheaper than paying for professional repair.  Part of Oak Park Fix-It Cafe’s mission is to open people’s eyes about how much is discarded and what can be repaired instead of replaced. In this increasingly consumer-driven world, it is refreshing to see people coming together to take better care of their items and increase the health of their neighborhood. 

The Oak Park Fix-It Cafe is held the third Saturday of the month from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The next cafe is April 21. See the group’s Facebook page for details.

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— Victoria Ngo
Posted on Apr 9, 2018

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