Mobile Menders sews for those in need

Sewing event set for Feb. 10 in Armatage neighborhood

Mobile Menders founder Michelle Ooley. Photo by Lynette Kalsnes
Mobile Menders founder Michelle Ooley. Photo by Lynette Kalsnes

Michelle Ooley started the organization Mobile Menders this past year, inspired by her experience sewing at a fix-it clinic.

Since then, the organization has developed into one with more than 150 volunteers that holds events across the Twin Cities.

Ooley’s organization repairs clothing and accessories for those in need at free sewing and mending clinics around the area. She and her volunteers will hold an event from 1-4 p.m. Feb. 10 at the Armatage Recreation Center (2500 W. 57th St.).

“It’s just amazing to see the enthusiasm around this,” Ooley said. “I think it’s just something so simple … and in this time right now, you kind of need some good stuff to offset the negative.”

Ooley, an administrative assistant for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, developed the idea for Mobile Menders after volunteering at the fix-it clinic this past April. She said the event, held at the Union Gospel Mission Men’s Campus in St. Paul, was busy for four hours.

Three hours into the event, Ooley said a man came up to her table in need of repairs to his jacket and bathrobe. Ooley said she couldn’t repair the jacket at the clinic but offered to take it home and repair it.

A couple of weeks later, Ooley met the man to return the jacket. She said he broke down crying upon her returning it.

“I turned and went back into the building and got goosebumps,” she said.

Recognizing the need, Ooley decided to get back in touch with fellow volunteers from the April fix-it clinic and hold a second sewing event at Union Gospel. The volunteers were busy for another three hours, she said, and the volunteer efforts continued. She subsequently advertised the project on a community board near her home in St. Paul and was soon aided by publicity from a Minnesota Public Radio News story in August.

“It’s never been the same since,” Ooley said.

Nowadays, Mobile Menders works with more than 15 organizations and has 157 volunteers. It held 29 mending events from June through December, repairing approximately 350 pounds of clothing. Ooley said the organization is working on getting nonprofit status.

“It’s been absolutely amazing,” Ooley said. “I wasn’t expecting to get this type of reaction.”

Ooley noted the intense gratitude shown by residents of the various locations at which Mobile Menders has held events. She added that residents at places such as House of Charity, a downtown Minneapolis agency that provides housing to people experiencing homelessness, appreciate the consistency Mobile Menders gives them.

Kyle Lipinski, women’s counselor for House of Charity, said Mobile Menders has helped restore in her clients the belief that they are worthy of support.

“Not only have they done an incredible job just in terms of simple mending,” Lipinski said, “but they’ve provided a message of consistency and that people care about them.”

Lipinski told a story of a client who asked a Mobile Menders volunteer to repair his backpack. She said the volunteer recognized that the backpack wouldn’t last long and brought the man a new one the next month.

“My client felt super seen and listened to and validated,” Lipinski said.

Armatage resident Carrie Federer has volunteered with Mobile Menders at the House of Charity events, sewing and mending garments for the residents. She said the people who come to the events are grateful and appreciative that the volunteers come to help them out.

“They’re just so excited, even if they don’t have anything to be mended,” Federer said. “It’s a great feeling to be able to make somebody’s day like that.”

Federer’s husband, Joel, is on the Armatage board and helped facilitate the event coming to the neighborhood. Mobile Menders already has a full slate of volunteers for the event, Ooley said.

Mobile Menders has a contact form on its website, for those who know of a place that could benefit from its services. Those interested in volunteering for the organization can learn more at mobilemenders.weebly.com/volunteer-opportunities.

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