Your broken toaster could make a fix-it guy’s day

Volunteers at Hennepin CountyÂ’s Fix-It clinics love to tinker

Fix-It Clinics help to divert items from the waste stream. Credit: Submitted image

For you, maybe, a broken toaster is an electro-mechanical annoyance with serious implications for breakfast.

For Jesse Daun of East Isles, it’s an opportunity to do what he loves: take something apart, figure out what’s wrong and put it back together. And that’s why Daun is a regular among the engineers, seamsters and tinkerers who volunteer at Hennepin County’s Fix-It Clinics.

“It’s super-fun,” Daun said.  “I was talking to [Fix-It Clinic coordinator] Nancy [Lo] a few nights ago and I’m like, if we could do these twice a month that would be awesome.

“I get pretty fired-up and excited about them,” he continued. “I’d do more if I could.”

Volunteering at a Fix-It Clinic is hardly work for the software engineer, who gets to scratch a tinkering itch and do good for environment to boot.

Lo, a county waste reduction and recycling specialist, said nearly a ton of stuff has been diverted from the waste stream since September, when she organized the first Fix-It Clinic at Washburn Library in the Tangletown neighborhood. That 2,000 pounds of stuff includes common household items like lamps, DVD players, sewing machines, many toasters and even a Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner or two — all granted a reprieve from the incinerator by Lo’s volunteers.

Linden Hills resident Jim Hartmann gets the same kind of tinkerer’s buzz from the Fix-It Clinics as Daun.

“I’ve just always had a talent for fixing things, and I kind of enjoy it, the challenge of it,” Hartmann said. “I thought it would be fun, too, to hang out with other people and try to solve problems.”

Hartmann also has a background in engineering and grew up fixing things around the house. And to him, the clinics — begun after Lo read a 2012 New York Times story about Amsterdam’s Repair Café — just make sense.

“It’s better to make things last and not buy new ones,” Hartmann said.

Lo said she gets about 20 volunteers per event, and they’re busy from the moment the doors open. (Here’s a tip if you plan to show up at a future Fix-It Clinic: Wait an hour or so for the rush to die down, and you’re far less likely to be stuck in line.) Although lamps and toasters are among the most common items brought in for repairs, the volunteers have a variety of skills; some of the most underutilized are the seamsters, who are itching to get to work on your ripped jeans or frayed linens.

Lo estimated about three-quarters of all items brought to the Fix-It Clinics are successfully repaired. In some cases, the volunteer team doesn’t have everything needed make a repair, but they can at least diagnose a problem and help the owner find spare parts.

Education is a key component of the clinics.

Daun said many people are afraid to loosen the screws on a broken appliance, but that’s the first step in most repairs. As he put it: “Hey, it’s already broken.”

“I find it rewarding personally to be able to help people and also to teach people a little bit — help them get over that fear of opening things up — and knowing we’re reducing the impact on our landfills by some small amount,” Daun said.

Fix-It Clinics are held roughly once per month at various locations across the county. The next event is scheduled for 10 a.m.–2 p.m. April 13 during the South Minneapolis Housing Fair at the Minneapolis Sports Center, 2121 E. Lake St.

Go to hennepin.us/fixitclinic to find a schedule of upcoming events. Want to volunteer? Contact Lo at nancy.lo@co.hennenpin.mn.us or call 348-9195.