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The Repair Cafe brings community, sustainability initiatives to Ames

Ella Slade
Glenda Stormes-Bice, a Repair Cafe volunteer, offered free sewing machine services at the event on Saturday, Oct. 7.

The Repair Cafe, a volunteer-driven initiative in partnership with the City of Ames and the Ames Public Library, held an event Saturday for community members to drop in with broken items needing repair. Volunteers assisted with vehicles, sewing projects, bicycle repair, computers and electronics, home and kitchen items and more.

Justin Gilger, a jeweler at Gilger Designs, a family-owned and operated business, said this marks his third time  attending a Repair Cafe event this year. Gilger said he and his brother are training the next generation of jewelers, as his father, who has been in the jewelry business for 55 years, is soon entering retirement.

“I just think the Repair Cafe is a fantastic thing for the community,” Gilger said. “It’s huge to be able to offer these services to people that wouldn’t have that resource available, or they wouldn’t know where to find [them].”

Gilger said he has no problem performing basic jewelry fixes free of charge at the Repair Cafe.

“It’s a small cost for me, but I’d rather help somebody out that needs it,” Gilger said.

The Repair Cafe is open and free to anyone, and if volunteers are unable to repair an item or parts are required, they help you find a local repair shop that can help. This year, it also held a seed giveaway and exchange, with free flower and vegetable seeds from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and Mustard Seed Farms.

Schontonia Davis, a  Master Gardener and volunteer with the Seed Library, said the Seed Library project has become a permanent part of the Ames Public Library after participating in previous Repair Cafe events. The Seed Library is a collaborative project between the Ames Public Library, Story County Extension Master Gardeners, Ames Repair Cafe and Mustard Seed Farm.

“For me, [The Repair Cafe] means giving people the chance to grow their own food or flowers, if they want to discover flowers, and giving people some of the resources, taking part of that burden of procuring things off of them,” Davis said.

Nate Thrailkill, a volunteer from the Seed Library, said that even though one may not think seeds are really related to repairing something, every resource at the Repair Cafe has a common thread of “reduce, reuse, repair, recycle”.

“So it does actually fit in quite well,” Thrailkill said. “I love that it’s still kind of like diversity. We have jewelry over there, seeds here, toasters. It’s great.”

Emma Flynn, a volunteer coordinator for the Ames Repair Cafe, said her role as volunteer coordinator combined her skills of organizing events, finding people and directing them to the event, which also gave her the opportunity to get connected within the community.

“There aren’t small mom-and-pop repair shops around anymore, so this is really serving that need,” Flynn said.

Flynn said she has seen family heirlooms and items passed down through generations brought back to life at Repair Cafe events.

“There’s also the environmental aspect of diverting waste,” Flynn said. “We try to fix things and not throw things out as much as we can at our house, and I think it’s just a matter of time. Availability, resources, skills—you can’t always get to those things on the day-to-day, so just sharing that with the community and getting our skills shared more broadly.”

Flynn said that the idea for the initiative came from a group of friends with a variety of different skills wanting to contribute to the community.

“I am an initiator [of the project], but that’s because I have such a good group of friends I can rely on,” Vikram Bhargava, a coordinator and founder of the Repair Cafe, said.

Bhargava said the project’s general objectives focus on sustainability, community engagement and self-reliance. Thanks to a core group of volunteers, the Repair Cafe project has seen growing success in both the Ames and Des Moines areas.

Megan Klein-Hewett, the adult services manager for the Ames Public Library, said Bhargava came to her over a year ago with the idea for a Repair Cafe.

“I did some research, and I felt like the kind of thing that we have the resources to help that community group pull off,” Klein-Hewett said.

The Ames Public Library Friends Foundation supported the project financially, and resources were gathered with aid from external donors, volunteers and library staff.

“It’s been really amazing to see it start from just an idea to turn into this whole community focused event,” Klein-Hewett said. “I think that that’s the most rewarding thing: being able to help all of these folks who want to serve their community members and help sustainability in our community and really being able to help facilitate that coming together and turning it into this great event.”

In participation with Open Access Week, the Ames Repair Cafe is partnering with Parks Library to host a student Repair Cafe event from 4-8 p.m. Oct. 24, which Bhargava said is still in need of volunteers. Volunteers can choose a two-hour time slot to sign up for and will help attendees fix items and dispose of unrepairable items responsibly.

Those wishing to volunteer can contact [email protected] with any questions. Bhargava also said the Repair Cafe is looking for a social media manager, as well as someone to organize and manage data.

“The idea is to make it an engaging program for students where they have firsthand experience either volunteering or just getting their stuff repaired in hope that they continue to think about working against planned obsolescence, which is a huge issue for sustainability,” Bhargava said.

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  • C

    Cathy | Oct 13, 2023 at 11:16 am

    Such a great event for our community. Thanks for the article!

  • J

    Jeanne Rogert | Oct 9, 2023 at 11:16 am

    This is absolutely the best article I read today. I knew the library had this service, but this explains it so I understand it. What a great community we live in where people will share their skills to help others. Kudos to each of you.