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Buffalo’s First Repair Café, Where Broken Items Build Community

Often times when a household lamp stops working or the vacuum cleaner appears to be on its last leg, the far-too-easy resolution is to throw it out and purchase a new one. But what if we were able to learn how to repair the item ourselves? Think of the potential dollars saved and the amount of waste spared from the local landfill.

These are the ideas that motivated a group of local residents to organize Buffalo’s first “Dare to Repair Café” which took place last week at the University Heights CoLab. Earlier this year, partners from the City of Buffalo Recycling Program, Knowledgefire, University Heights CoLab, and University Heights Tool Library began organizing the event, which brought together over 30 community residents and volunteers to tackle repairs on broken household items.  

Dave Harter from Knowledgefire helps repair a bicycle.

Volunteer “fixers” worked side-by-side with residents to repair their items for free, saving them the cost of replacement and teaching them the necessary skills to make similar repairs in the future. Volunteers did everything from repairing bicycles, to sewing clothing items that needed to be mended, and patching up household items ranging from windows to tools and small appliances.

The environmental impact of these small-scale community repair cafés is more significant than one might imagine. Sixteen items were repaired at this first event, which diverted over 200 pounds of waste from our local landfill.

We’re hoping to build off the success of the first repair café by aiming to divert a quarter ton of ‘waste’ by the end of the second,” said Joe Kurtz, founder of the University Heights CoLab. “It’s not just about repairing, but getting people to change the way they see their trash while building a new group of people willing to share their knowledge and expertise to continue the trend of fixing rather than ditching.”

What makes the repair café unique is witnessing the diversity of skills that our neighbors can bring to the table. Christiana Limniatis, director of preservation services at Preservation Buffalo Niagara, taught visitors at the first event how to re-glaze old wood windows. Dave Harter, founder of Knowledgefire, showed visitors how to tune up their bicycles. Chip Blenk, a retired engineer and member of the Erie County Retired Senior Volunteer Program, spared over half a dozen broken lamps from being thrown in the trash.

Volunteer fixer Chip Blenk repaired several lamps at the first Dare to Repair Café.

“Dare to Repair is not only an exciting initiative because of its mission to reduce waste and rethink our disposable culture, but it also shows what is possible when City departments, neighborhood organizations, and community members come together around a common cause,” said Madisen Hughes, AmeriCorps VISTA member serving in the Mayor’s office.

The next Dare to Repair Café will be taking place on Saturday, October 21, 2017 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Knowlegefire, located at 839 West Avenue. To learn more about the event or how you can volunteer to be a fixer, visit the University Heights Tool Library website or call 716-851-5014.

Written by Sarah Maurer

Sarah Maurer

I moved to Buffalo to attend Canisius College in 2007 and began writing for Buffalo Rising as a journalism intern in 2010. Working with Newell and meeting numerous entrepreneurs, activists and everyday folks who were working to make their city better made a huge impact on my decision to stay here. After witnessing all the positive development and grassroots initiatives happening in neighborhoods throughout the city, I was inspired to pursue a term of service in AmeriCorps and a career in Buffalo's non-profit sector. I currently work in the housing department at the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY and am excited to be a part of their ongoing efforts to revitalize the Broadway Fillmore neighborhood. I also volunteer as the project coordinator for Artfarms Buffalo. I continue to write for Buffalo Rising because I love having the opportunity to stay connected to those working toward positive changes for the Queen City.

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