If Ramsey County has been successful in helping to keep radios and toasters out of the garbage bin, Terese Bordeau figured, why not dresses and coats?
Bordeau, an environmental health specialist who launched the county’s monthly Fix-It Clinics in 2015, got the notion that using volunteers to help residents repair and re-use clothing was just as good a way to reduce waste as doing the same with household items.
“It was just an idea that popped into my head,” Bordeau said of the county’s first Mend-It Clinic, to be held from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Ramsey County Library-Roseville, 2180 Hamline Av. N.
“A lot of people may not have broken household items,” she said. “But people have clothing that needs mending all the time.”
Bordeau got the idea for the Fix-It Clinics from Hennepin County, and she admitted that the mend-it idea wasn’t original either. Turns out that trail was blazed by Michelle Ooley, who launched Mobile Menders 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, whose grass-roots organization will bring more than 200 potential volunteers to Ramsey County’s sewing table, agreed.
“I absolutely love that they reached out to us,” said Ooley, a resident of St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood. “I was happy to get the call from Ramsey County.”
It certainly seems that this could be the start of a well-stitched relationship.
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 for many, 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.”
And now, teaming with Ramsey County on the new Mend-It Clinic, both Bordeau and Ooley hope to cast an even wider net for new contacts, additional volunteers and a growing crowd of folks who could use a pair of pants hemmed, a shirt button replaced or just the dignity provided by being able to wear clothes that are in good repair.
“Simply replacing a button to fixing torn jeans can mean so much,” Ooley said. “It is amazing sometimes to realize the emotional connection that we have to our clothing. My dad passed away when I was 18, and I still have one of his shirts.”