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Lincoln Repair Cafe fixes items for free

May 6, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — You can buy a five-piece set of nylon kitchen tools — three types of spoons, a spatula and a ladle — for a little more than $7 at one online retailer.

It’s an expense Sherrie Geier easily could have afforded when the metal heads of her old kitchen spoons started coming loose from their wooden handles. But she likes her old spoons; they were wedding gifts, she said. And in 48 years of almost daily use, they’ve never failed her.

So on a Sunday afternoon in late April, Geier visited The Commons, an open community space in Lincoln, to see what could be done to fix them.

One Sunday each month a few volunteers with the Lincoln Repair Cafe meet here to fix, for free, broken items people might otherwise throw away. They examine furniture, clothing and small appliances and do what they can to repair them on-site.

The Omaha World-Herald (http://bit.ly/2qmQ20Z ) reports that the Lincoln cafe is one of more than 1,200 similar groups around the world. The concept began in the Netherlands in 2009 and has since spread to more than 30 countries. In the United States, cafes have been established in 14 states.

The idea, said Jeanette Nakada, organizer of the Lincoln cafe, is to keep things out of the landfill that don’t have to be there — to counter our collective tendency to waste and replace.

“I think it’s just common sense and frugality, which is a virtue you don’t see much anymore,” Nakada said.

Increasingly, she said, consumer goods are built to fall apart. Clothes rip. Lamps short out. We toss them, replace them, and repeat. In 2013, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash.

This doesn’t square with Nakada and her small team of volunteers. With a little time and effort, they say, we can keep the things we already have much longer.

People bring in all kinds of stuff. On a recent Sunday, Jeanette Schommer brought in a chair with a broken leg. Geier brought her kitchen spoons. One woman brought a leaky carpet cleaner. Another brought a decorative hanging lamp.

One man, who said he had a set of power tools from the 1950s that needed fixing and declined to give his name, sat near the door, evaluating the skill of the fixers.

Most repairs are simple matters, said Larry James, who works in computer support at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and has been a volunteer repairman with the cafe for about two years. There’s no special trick to it; most of his skills he learned on his own, “from being poor,” he said.

James and two other volunteers, Ted Haubrich and Justin Orem, work on furniture and small appliances. Nakada specializes in mending clothing.

Other, larger, repair cafes are almost more like community workshops. People can stop by and use an assortment of tools to fix their own broken things. Repair “coaches” are on hand to help if needed.

Because of its size — Nakada estimates the Lincoln cafe is the smallest in the country — and the lack of a permanent space, adopting a more tutorial approach would be difficult for the Lincoln cafe. Nakada and her volunteers bring their own tools and, for the most part, handle the repairs themselves.

But James often tries to walk visitors through repairs, explaining to them how to figure out the problem and how to fix it. Hopefully, he said, they’ll be able to go home and make their own repairs.

“I just like helping people,” James said. “It’s a very good feeling when you can fix something for somebody. A lot of the people who come to us are maybe on a limited income.”

Sure, visitors bring things for practical reasons. Maybe they’re looking to save a buck or two. Maybe they trust that old 1950s circular saw more than they would any modern replacement.

But many people, Nakada said, bring in items that are special for one reason or another; things they’re not willing to part with because they don’t want to give up those memories.

Geier likes her old kitchen spoons, partly because they fit her hand well. They’re easy to maneuver, despite recent surgery on her shoulder.

But, she said as she waited patiently for the glue on the handles to set, they also represent countless home-cooked meals during almost 50 years of marriage.

She’s not about to throw that away.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com

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