Clark Wood, right, starts repairs on a record player brought in to the Repair Cafe on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Clark Wood, right, starts repairs on a record player brought in to the Repair Cafe on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Fixers from Sustainable Community Stewards divert waste from landfills

Volunteers in the group lead “Repair Cafes” and other sustainability events to educate and engage with the community.

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — Holding broken lamps, torn clothes and defective holiday decorations, residents lined up in the Mountlake Terrace Library before the Repair Cafe was scheduled to start on a November afternoon.

Over 60 people waited to have a volunteer fix their items.

The Repair Cafe is just one event led by Sustainable Community Stewards, a volunteer group affiliated with the local Washington State University extension. The group set up stations around a room in the library, designating areas for specific types of repairs: sewing, electrical, tech, jewelry and general repairs.

Fixing is Clark Wood’s passion. But the volunteer believes Repair Cafes also encourage people to avoid quickly replacing old, seemingly unusable objects with something brand new.

“It keeps things out of landfills,” he said.

Cindy Parker repairs a watch wristband at the Repair Cafe on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Cindy Parker repairs a watch wristband at the Repair Cafe on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

In fact, about 231 pounds worth of items were diverted from landfills as a result of the November Repair Cafe, according to volunteers who weighed each of the items brought.

Wood retired six years ago and started volunteering at various Repair Cafes shortly after. Sustainable Community Stewards reformatted the event at the height of COVID-19, so people dropped off items they wanted repaired, and fixers, “not unlike vultures over a carcass,” chose what they wanted to mend, Wood said.

At the start of the Nov. 18 Repair Cafe, he was assigned to fix a modern music system that could play records, cassette tapes and the radio. Equipped with a nearly 50 pound tool chest, he had the item’s owner, Madison Miller, occasionally hold a flashlight for about an hour as he worked to fix the speakers and record player function.

Miller said she didn’t realize she’d be able to watch Wood while he worked.

“It’s showing people that things can be fixed,” Wood replied.

Kelly Leahy, left, and Cindy Parker, right, work on sewing and sticking items brought in for repairs at the Repair Cafe on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Kelly Leahy, left, and Cindy Parker, right, work on sewing and sticking items brought in for repairs at the Repair Cafe on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Sustainable Community Stewards also volunteer at large events like farmers markets and citywide celebrations where they assist with waste sorting.

“The idea is to have an educational moment” at the waste sorting events, said Kellee Byard, sustainable communities program coordinator for the WSU extension.

Stewards stand by the compost, recycle and garbage bins at these events and advise people on where to put their trash and why. Almost always, people are receptive to learning about best waste practices, Byard said.

Sustainable Community Stewards started in 2010. Historically, volunteers have led free green cleaning workshops, where people can make homemade cleaning supplies with common household ingredients. They have also hosted recycling events, usually for styrofoam, in addition to Repair Cafes and waste sorting events.

Dozens of people wait in line with items in need of repair at the Repair Cafe on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Dozens of people wait in line with items in need of repair at the Repair Cafe on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Byard said they hope stewards can host clothing swaps next year as well.

But with 40 to 50 people attending Repair Cafes on average, Byard said there are already four planned for next year.

“Everyone is so enthusiastic,” Byard said.

Of the 108 items brought to the Repair Cafe last month, fixers were able to repair 55 items during the event, Byard said .

As for the music system Wood was working on, he wasn’t able to to fix it during the event, though Miller said he tried really hard. The record player still plays a bit too slow.

A mobile bicycle repair available at the Repair Cafe on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Three days after the event, Miller said Wood emailed her offering to pick up her sound system.

He believes he figured out how to fix it.

Ta’Leah Van Sistine: 425-339-3460; taleah.vansistine@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @TaLeahRoseV.

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