Volunteer tinkerers are the spark behind fix-it clinics

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 18, 2014 - 1:08 PM

More than 700 people have brought in broken lamps, toasters and small appliances for a quick fix at Hennepin County’s free repair clinics.


Volunteer fixers Paul Dingels, left, and John Barron worked on a broken lamp at a Fix-it Clinic in January at the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis.

Photo: Leslie Plesser , Special to the Star Tribune

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Are you not so handy? Does your technical know-how end at “righty tighty, lefty Lucy”?

During your save-it-or-scrap-it spring cleaning sort, folks at Hennepin County suggest you make a third pile: fix it.

You can join hundreds of others and take those broken lamps, toasters and other small appliances to a Hennepin County Fix-it Clinic.

The free monthly events connect volunteer tinkerers with local residents who have broken items in need of a quick fix.

The clinics started in fall 2012 and have a growing following. During 2013, their first full year of operation, more than 700 people stopped in. Items range from the pedestrian — broken mixers, fans and vacuums — to the more eclectic, including cuckoo clocks and antique radios.

While some repairs require specialized tools — to pry open a malfunctioning iPod Nano, for example — others, such as a cracked antique or a torn dress, just take a little glue or thread and some know-how.

“We do a lot of gluing of things,” said Nancy Lo, a waste reduction and recycle specialist with Hennepin County Department of Environmental Services.

The clinics are held at different locations around the county each month. More than 70 people lined up at this month’s clinic at Arc’s Value Village in New Hope. Spring clinics are planned in Minneapolis and Osseo.

This isn’t a drop-off program. Residents who bring in items for repair collaborate with the volunteer Fix-it crew.

“The ultimate goal is to reduce waste and to have people learn how to fix their own belongings,” Lo said. “Volunteers show the residents how to fix their own things. They hand them the screwdriver and they are actively expected to participate in the dismantling, diagnosis and the possible fix. People have a lot of fun.”

Saving money motivates some to bring in their items. Often, however, sentimental attachment or an environmentally driven sense of right and wrong is what prompts participation.

“Their reasoning is it’s the right thing to do. They say, ‘It would be a shame to just throw this out,’ ” said volunteer fixer John Barron.

Being free, the clinics also help fill that niche where an item seems too good to toss, but too expensive to fix.

Genesis of a tinkerer

Like many of the volunteers, Barron started tinkering as a child.

He remembers taking apart neighbors’ old lawn mowers starting around age 10. He didn’t learn how to put them back together until he was 14. Hearing the roar of the lawn mower he’d just repaired was a high. The thrill of making something work is still there 40 years later.

He said friends ask him: “Why would you eat up the juiciest part of a Saturday once a month to do this?”

“I love doing it. I get into a zone when I fix. Time sort of stands still. I am singularly focused, “ said Barron, who is retired from the printing business and started a part-time handyman business at http://tinyurl.com/mgsuyxb. “I know there is a huge prize at the end. God willing, it will be a fixed device.”

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  • Fix-it Clinic

  • Upcoming fix-it clinics

    Saturday, March 8: noon to 4 p.m., Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church, 4150 Dupont Av. N., Minneapolis.

    Saturday, April 12: noon to 4 p.m., Osseo Community Center, 415 Central Av., Osseo.

    What to bring: Broken household goods or clothing in need of repair, as well as any tools and supplies you think might help with the job. Events are first come, first served.

    Information: www.hennepin.us/fixitclinic

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