Preserving skills and saving items from the landfill at Repair Café

Photo by Scooter MacMillan
From left, Joan Weed watches as Carol Geske has her lamp repaired by Wolfger Schneider at the Repair Café.

SCOOTER MACMILLAN
Staff Writer

The Repair Café at Champlain Valley Union High School on Saturday saw a long line of folks eager to preserve their belongings.

Over 65 people attended the event, hoping to have their items mended, repaired or sharpened.

Transition Town Charlotte had 12 stations set up, but many of the stations featured more than one person doing repairs. For example, shortly after 10 a.m., just after the fixing had begun, there were at least three sewing machines and seven people mending clothes.

One of those, Steve Faust was darning his own socks. He said it was a skill he’d had for just a few minutes. Someone had just taught him, but it is was a skill he said he plans to keep.

Others were practicing and sharing skills they’ve had for years.

Jamey Gerlaugh, co-coordinator with Ruah Swennerfelt of the Repair Café, has a background in electrical engineering and said that he’s always fixed things, ever since he was a child.

“The thing that makes me sad is when I see things hanging out at the curb,” he said.

Gerlaugh didn’t appear sad on Saturday, though, with a steady line of people waiting as he repaired bracelets, watches, watch bands and other small items that required a magnifying glass.

This was the fourth Repair Café that Transition Town Charlotte has held, but the first at Champlain Valley Union High School. Having it at the high school meant that many students were repairing people’s possessions, but they were also being mentored by some of the older fixers.

Alice Trageser, a retired teacher, was sharing sewing tips with CVU sophomores Celi Barringer and Ellie Ramirez as they all worked on repairing denim clothes.

Photo by Scooter MacMillan
Louis Cox sharpens a lawnmower blade.

For at least one student, this was a different type of recycling. Trageser had taught Barringer’s art class at CVU. Barringer’s continuing interest in art has led her to fashion and clothing design, which she plans to pursue in college.

Wolfger Schneider, who was repairing a lamp, said that he’s repaired cuckoo clocks, standard clocks, and music boxes too, but his weirdest repair at a Repair Café was a pants iron.

“I’d never seen one before,” he said.

Carol Geske said that the Repair Café “is a very Vermont thing.” She had bumped into a friend and was enjoying spending time with her while Schneider repaired a lamp that Geske bought at Bloomingdale’s over 30 years ago. She said it was not only great having her lamp fixed, but nice  to watch it being repaired.

“It makes it not so intimidating,” she said.

Photo by Scooter MacMillan
From left, Alice Trageser shares some sewing tips with CVU students Ellie Ramirez and Celi Barringer.

Although it may resonate as a Vermont thing, it’s not strictly an event exclusive to the Green Mountain State. Ruah Swennerfelt, co-coordinator with Gerlaugh, helped start Repair Café and initiated the organization of Transition Town Charlotte.

“Transition Town is out of Europe and now it’s all around the world,” Swennerfelt said, “and Transition Towns all around the world have adopted Repair Cafés.”

She said Saturday at CVU was “neighbors helping neighbors. It’s keeping things out of the landfill. It’s neighbors just hanging out.”

Swennerfelt was so interested in the Transition Town movement that she got a grant, traveled to 10 countries in Europe interviewing people and wrote a book called “Rising to the Challenge: The Transition Movement and People of Faith.”

The Transition movement has the websites www.transitionus.org and www.transitionnetwork.org. The movement seeks to prepare the world for a time when oil resources are declining and climate change has led to economic instability by developing small, local organizations.

“If the lights go out, I think a lot of people won’t know what to do,” said Joan Weed, who had come for repairs. “We’ve got to save these old skills.”

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