Rockland’s Repair Café Has a Simple Fix for Our Trash Problem.
While Rockland is one of New York’s smallest counties, its repair café is anything but, explains Kathy Galione. Galione works for the Rockland County Youth Bureau and is the organizer of the free “fix it” event, now in its fifth year.
For those who’ve never been, a repair café is an international project founded in Amsterdam in 2009 by Martine Postma based around the idea of bringing a community of volunteers together to fix broken items — clothes, electronics, furniture, small machinery, and so on. Today, there are 2,500 worldwide.
John Wackman, who lived in Kingston and passed away in 2021, first established the event in the Hudson Valley in 2013. Galione encountered a repair café up in New Paltz, and in 2018, was first able to bring it to Rockland. Most Hudson Valley repair cafés happen on the town or village level, but Rockland’s is unique: it is county-wide — “larger than most… a happy accident,” Galione says — and rotates through different towns supported by Rockland Green, Rockland County, Sustainable Hudson Valley, and Rockland BOCES.
Galione explains that the ethos behind the events boils down to a couple key ideas.
First and foremost, she says, it is a community gathering, a “mission to bring the community together… to reduce the amount of waste going into the waste stream.” According to the EPA, Americans generated nearly 300 million tons of waste in 2018, about half of which went to landfills. Repair cafés can directly reduce trash output by extending the lifespan of items that might otherwise be discarded, while also creating a culture of re-skilling.
Galione describes the latter goal as paramount, particularly as companies make it difficult to repair items through voided warranties, hard-to-find parts, or unfriendly designs. “A lot of people who know how to fix things are older folks,” says Galione, “and we want to make sure that young people are passed along this knowledge.”
The “lifeblood” of the events, Galione emphasizes, are the volunteer teacher-fixers — “repair coaches” — who donate their time to repair everything from lamps to computers, and from kitchen equipment to an old pachinko game from the early 20th century. There is a two-item limit per person, and the café will usually take on repairs so long as the item is not hazardous and the attendee can carry it in unaided.
Rockland Repair Café is always on the lookout for new coaches — Galione would like a knife sharpener and a bikes person, but other skills are welcome — and she hopes to increase the frequency of events.
“There’s a lot of repair coaches that think they can’t do it… people who tinker in their garages and think, ‘oh, I wouldn’t fit in here.’ But they really do fit in well here!” she says.
Galione hopes to keep the event growing, and has been pleased to see the enthusiasm in coaches and attendees. “People are inspired to fix things, or even break something open and not be so intimidated,” she says.
“We get all kinds of transformational commentary. It’s really, really fun.”
Photos by Kathy Galione