Hennepin County's tinkerers see it all — from toasters to TV remotes, winter coats and camping lanterns.
They meet monthly, about 40 volunteers in all, at the county's Fix-It Clinics where they work with local residents to repair broken household items.
Since Hennepin County launched its program in 2012, Ramsey and Dakota counties have introduced similar initiatives to help people learn how to repair household goods and reduce the number of broken things tossed into landfills.
It's a win-win situation, said Nancy Lo, a waste reduction and recycling specialist with the county's Department of Environmental Services.
"Some people are really motivated by not having to buy something new," she said. "And then some people think, 'Oh, I don't want to have to throw this away. It can be repaired, and I don't want to add this to my trash.' "
The clinics are held at different locations across Hennepin County, typically drawing between 70 and 120 locals with their busted belongings each month. The next Fix-It Clinic will be held from noon to 4 p.m. on July 14 at Crosstown Covenant Church, 5540 30th Av. S., Minneapolis.
Lo encourages residents to bring along their children. "Kids love to take stuff apart and learn how things work," she said.
The tinkerer corps of engineers, builders and sewers enjoy it too. Some of their favorite items to fix are the most unusual — a toy pig that flips an egg in a frying pan, an antique witch from Germany that cackles.
"It's really a lot of fun," Lo said.
The county also has rolled out waste prevention initiatives, like the Zero Waste Challenge, to encourage residents to adopt sustainable habits and make smarter buying choices.
Lo said there's a program that focuses on eco-friendly building material, and another that's introduced waste-tracking software in local schools and restaurants. "We're working on the prevention aspect, too, rather than just worrying about recycling and composting," she said.
Mend-It opens in Ramsey
In Ramsey County, a Mend-It Clinic will open Saturday at the Roseville library to repair clothing. It's the brainchild of Terese Bordeau, an environmental health specialist who used Hennepin's Fix-It Clinics as the model for Ramsey's first such enterprise in 2015.
"A lot of people may not have broken household items," Bordeau said. "But people have clothing that needs mending all the time."
Bordeau admitted that the mend-it idea wasn't original. That trail was blazed by Michelle Ooley, who launched Mobile Menders in St. Paul a little more than a year ago.
Mobile Menders and Ramsey County will be partners on what Bordeau is calling, at least for now, a pilot project. "We want to see what the response is like," Bordeau said, adding that she was encouraged by the overwhelming response Mobile Menders has enjoyed since it began taking sewing machines into homeless shelters in June 2017.
"I thought: 'That sounds like a great partnership waiting to happen,' " Bordeau said.
Ooley started Mobile Menders after she volunteered her sewing skills at a fix-it clinic at Union Gospel Mission in 2017. When a man whose jacket she repaired responded with tears, Ooley realized that fixing people's clothing not only was a fundamental, unmet need, but it had emotional power to improve lives.
She reached out on Facebook to find other interested volunteers, which got the attention of a reporter from Minnesota Public Radio. That story helped draw additional media attention from throughout the Twin Cities and even nationwide, including the Star Tribune and U.S. News and World Report.
As Mobile Menders' volunteer ranks swelled, so did the list of organizations that they helped. Soon, said Ooley, she hopes to attain nonprofit status to attract more funding to help even more people.
"It's been pretty amazing," she said of her group's rapid rise. "It's just a need that nobody thought of before."