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  • Writer's pictureellencdonker

GIVING NEW LIFE TO OUR POSSESSIONS By Ellen Donker

The Repair Café also builds community


We Americans have a lot of stuff. Sadly, many of us have adopted the practice of replacing anything that breaks with the newest version, casting the broken item into the garbage. It’s too expensive to fix or there’s no one to take it to for repair.



South Orange resident Lorraine Graves knows all about this cycle, given her role at the Environmental Protection Agency. As an environmentalist, she understands the importance of keeping our items out of the waste stream. In 2017, this passion led her to bring an event to our towns that connects specialists who have the expertise to fix things with those who have broken possessions. It was the first in New Jersey. Aptly called the Repair Café, it’s a movement that was started in 2009 by Martine Postma, a former journalist from Amsterdam. It has since expanded to more than 2,500 sites worldwide.


Stella Geller is thrilled to have her robe hemmed.

Partnering with SOMA Two Towns for All Ages, which seeks to make our towns age-friendly, Graves organizes one Repair Café a year. Local experts fix items such as lamps, bikes, jewelry, clocks, small electronics and furniture. Other popular services include knife sharpening and tailoring.


Sometimes it just takes consultation with one of the fixers to make an item serviceable. Graves recalls when a resident brought in a bouncy house with a hole. To repair it, the entire house had to be inflated. Once patched, the bouncy house was ready to use, thus diverting one more item from a landfill. These moments and the community building that happens between the volunteers and the attendees bring joy to Graves. Naturally, people have a story with every item they bring in. The environment is chatty and amiable.


Graves also thrives on spreading the word on the Repair Café and sharing resources to help other towns join the movement. Although she would like to expand the Repair Café to twice a year, her ultimate vision is to have one every weekend in our region. She points to the Hudson Valley Repair Cafés with more than 60 locations running events in the Hudson Valley, Catskills, Capital Region and North Country.


The next SOMA Repair Café is Sunday, May 19, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at The Baird Community Center, 5 Mead Street in South Orange. For more information or to schedule an item for repair, email soma2towns@gmail.com or call 973-558-0863.


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