Every time the cow bell rang on Oct. 15, it signaled success at the Repair Café held at Santa Clara’s Central Park Library from noon to 4 p.m. About 60 Bay Area residents lined up with their broken household items and electronics in the hope that they could be repaired by the more than 15 skillful volunteers who were on hand, donating their time and expertise to keep items out of landfills.
Moto and Chihiro Ito, Santa Clara residents born in Japan, brought a valued wooden toy given to their son, Kyo, by a cousin in Japan. Their volunteer, Norm, cut a new wood piece for the broken toy then glued, shaped and sanded it.
“We wanted to teach Kyo that things are fixable. You don’t necessarily need to throw them away,” said Chihiro Ito.
“We want him to treat stuff carefully, with respect,” said Moto Ito. “In Japan, everything must be taken care of carefully. Sometimes we are so proud of having things for ten or twenty years.”
Mountain View residents Maia Coladonato and her husband, Greg, co-founded the Mountain View Repair Café in 2013, with the help of the Palo Alto Repair Café.
“Waste prevention is my passion. I love keeping things out of the landfill,” said Coladonato. “One of the amazing things to me is the community. Volunteers donate hours and hours of time on a weekend—their skills—to help people they don’t know.”
“They show people how to fix their own things. It’s a lost art,” said Coladonato. “Our society is so disposable.”
Tom, who preferred not using his last name, was fixing appliances.
“I enjoy doing the work. I hate seeing things thrown away,” said Tom. “My parents grew up during the depression when you had to make things last as a way of life. I learned their way of life.”
Daniel Bremond, a Sunnyvale resident born in France at the end of WWII, also fixes electrical and mechanical items.
“We needed to rebuild Europe, and the best way for me to help do that was to study mechanics,” said Bremond, explaining his skills and interest in volunteering.
Sunnyvale resident Stephen Casner was working on a CD player.
“In my family, I’ve always been known as the person who repairs things,” he said. “There’s not really any training for this. Just fiddling and learning things over time.”
Casner’s trickiest repair ever was a music box with a detached main spring. The most common repairs are switches and sockets on lamps and power cords. Once Casner replaced a fan cord that had been eaten by a pet bunny.
But not everything broken is fixable on the spot. Of the 96 items brought to the library on Sunday, 40.6 percent were fixed, 13.5 percent were partially fixed and 45.8 percent were not fixed, some because time ran out.
Repair Café overhead is low since everyone is a volunteer and repair space is donated. The volunteers bring their own tools and, for clothing repairs, sewing machines. Repair Café visitors who are able, drop a donation in a jar to cover the minimal cost of repair supplies. The Santa Clara City Library Foundation and Friends funded refreshments for the volunteers.
“Repair Café aligns very well with libraries. Their whole mission is to help you learn the process of doing your own things,” said Rachel Schmidt, Adult Services Program Coordinator for Santa Clara Library. “We’re green. Living green is very important to Santa Clara.”
The first Repair Café—now a foundation (www.repaircafe.org)—began in the Netherlands in Amsterdam eight years ago on Oct. 18, 2009. It has multiplied to almost 1,400 Repair Cafés worldwide, with seven in California, including Berkeley, Palo Alto and Mountain View.
Repair Café Mountain View (www.repaircafemv.org) meets quarterly, sometimes more often, in Mountain View, Sunnyvale and now, for the first time, in Santa Clara. Repair Cafés are scheduled on Nov. 5 in Palo Alto and on Dec. 3 in Mountain View.