Port Coquitlam launched its inaugural Repair Café Saturday, June 1, in an event that brought in volunteers from across the Lower Mainland.
Outside the city’s public works building, Darryl Ackerman was hard at work tuning up a pea-green road bicycle a few generations past its prime.
“This was it in its heyday,” he announced with a smile after taking it for a test spin.
Inside, volunteers were hard at work mending clothing, fixing jewelry and fiddling with a vacuum cleaner that had lost its will to suck.
At the back of the room, a Coquitlam elementary school teacher tinkered with a defunct paper shredder; some applied epoxy to a temperamental iron, others looked for solutions to a gasping leaf blower.
In the middle of it all stood Yining Sun, one of the organizers of the event and a manager of the Maple Ridge Repair Café, the precursor and model for the monthly free event designed to reduce waste in the community.
“We’re trying to spread a culture of repair,” Sun told The Tri-City News.
For many of the items brought in, the Repair Café is their last chance at a functional existence. As household products increasingly glut the marketplace, their price has dropped, canceling out the incentive to fix even the most basic household items, says Sun.
That’s a problem, both in terms of the rising environmental cost of accumulated human junk and due to the fact that the average person can’t perform basic maintenance on their little slice of existence.
Sun grew up in China at a time when the country still hadn’t become synonymous with the mass manufacture of human invention.
“It was common to repair things when I was little. When something was broken, you fix it,” she said. “Now, everything is so cheap, it’s not worth it.”
That’s where the Repair Café comes in. The volunteer-led event is meant to act as a catalyst to pass on the kind of fix-it knowledge Sun’s father racked up over the years.
Who else will fix a child’s clay sculpture looking for a glue solution; hip protector pants to protect the grandpa with Alzheimer’s in case he falls; or the heat lamp for a young girl’s bearded dragon lizard?
The stakes can be high. As one volunteer put it, “The daughter kept it warm during the daytime on her shoulder, but at night…”
Not everyone is a self-professed MacGyver here. Despite all her passion, Sun is one of the first to admit she has a lot to learn.
“I feel bad. I do all these events but I don’t know how to fix anything,” she said, quickly correcting herself and noting another volunteer taught her how to darn socks earlier in the morning.
Of the eight repair stations arranged around the building, the Tinker Bell Station is specifically set up to continue that education. Here young people are encouraged to break things apart, dig out and dissect the electronic guts of a telephone or old stereo without having to worry about putting them back together.
“We want to pass on the knowledge,” said Sun.
The Port Coquitlam Repair Café has been in the works for a couple of years, according to Mahdis Araujo, the brains behind the PoCo operation. Once the Maple Ridge model proved organizers could host a successful Repair Café once a month, it made it easier to replicate the event in Port Coquitlam.
But Sun envisions a bigger footprint, and has no plans of stopping in PoCo. She’s part of a group of volunteers trying to set up repair cafés in every municipality across the Metro Vancouver.
“As we get more and more popular, more and more municipalities are coming,” said Sun, who said the group is already in talks with the city of Port Moody and Coquitlam’s Men's Shed Society.
Until then, volunteers will be on standby once a month at the Port Coquitlam Public Works building. If you have a household item that needs fixing, the next Repair Cafés will be held on July 6 and August 10.
If you are handy yourself or would like to help out organizing one of the events, email email@example.com or call 604-927-5254.