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Gail Ryan puts her sewing skills to work fixing a sweater.

Pittsfield Repair Cafe Gives Broken Items Second Chance

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Above, Tom Harter fixes a clock at last month's Repair Cafe in Pittsfield. Left, Todd Allegretto was available for electrical repairs. The Repair Cafe is back at St. Stephen's Church this Saturday.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — If it's broke, there are people who might be able to fix it.

Pittsfield Resilience Circle is holding its second Repair Cafe on Saturday with 18 volunteers who have skills in fixing an array of household items — from computers to vacuum cleaners to radios to couches.

"It's not that complicated of an idea," said organizer Tom Harter. "It helps address the problem of throwing things away."

Harter's wife, Janet Henderson, found the idea online when she read about a group starting a series of cafes in the Netherlands with a government grant. From there, the Resilience Circle took it on the task of bringing it to the Berkshires.

The circle was established last August as part of a movement that seeks to bring small groups of people together to share ideas and challenges about economic and ecological security. Most of the circles in the United States are clustered around the Northeast; the Pittsfield circle meets twice a month.

By holding a Repair Cafe, the Resilience Circle says it wants to help reduce waste, promote repair skills, and teach people to be more self-sufficient, all in a friendly way to forge "non-consumerist bonds." There will also be free refreshments and literature available.

"Nobody is a vendor here. You can't buy anything," Harter said.

From 1 until 5, people can bring their broken items to the basement of St. Stephen's Church on East Street. Volunteers will try to fix each item or teach the owners how to fix them. Volunteers include professionals from the maintenance, technology and upholstery businesses. Sorry, no one will be there to fix CRT monitors, TVs, watches or shoes.

There will also be mini-workshops to teach minor repairs. The workshop at 2 will teach the proper way to sew a button and at 4, there will be a lesson on how to replace a vacuum cleaner belt.

The goal is to show people that they do not have to throw items out when they break. Harter said volunteers at the first cafe in January repaired six lamps, one vacuum cleaner, two radios and numerous articles of clothing, replaced a zipper on a sofa cushion, attached chair legs on two chairs and sharpened nine knives. Some 30 repairs in all were made.

Interest had grown so much, the Resilience Circle is aiming to hold a Repair Cafe every month. However, that will depend on the interest staying high in both residents and volunteers.

"We would like the group to have a positive influence on the community," Harter said. "We are planning to see if this one works even better."

Harter also added that the group could use a few more volunteers to help fix items. To make a donation or to volunteer for the Repair Cafe, contact Tom Harter at 413-212-8589 or Janet Henderson at

Tags: appliance repair,   community service,   

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