Donna Feldman figured her toaster oven was toast.
But before pitching it in the trash, or paying for a repair that might cost more than the item was worth, Feldman brought the toaster oven to the Repair Cafe, a free event at the Robert Crown Center, on Tuesday.
The periodic repair sessions match experienced fix-it folks, volunteers with skills, with Evanstonians who may be frustrated or mystified by today’s products, and are hoping to salvage them.
The Repair Cafe’s director, Beatriz Echeverria, said the cafe is the “last opportunity for the item. Get it fixed, or be told ‘no,'” it’s beyond repair.
And the fix, if it’s possible, is free.
The mission of Repair Cafe is not only to save residents money on repiars, but it’s also to keep things out of the landfill, things like electronics, bicycles, even espresso machines, stuff which is not exactly bio-degradable.
Vounteer repairman John Martin called the Cafe a “community event.”
“We’re trying to get people thinking about the environment. Instead of throwing things away,” he noted, “we hope we can get a couple of more years” out of something which can be fixed.
Echeverria founded the Cafe in 2018, after moving here from Spain.
Her reaction to Amercans disposing of potentially repairable items: “Oh my God!”
And so she and Martin, the first volunteer (now there are eight), established the Cafe. Locations have shifted over the years, but there is now a permanent home at Robert Crown Center, where Echeverria works in the library.
In fact, the Evanston Public Library and Citizens Greener Evanston are now the sponsors.
The relatively new toaster oven which Feldman brought in worked for baking and broiling, but the toaster function was, well, you know.
“I can’t believe it,” Feldman said. “I’ve been miserable for three weeks” without a nice piece of warmed bread in the morning.
Martin spent at least an hour analyzing the problem, taking the oven apart, trying to locate a part number on a faulty switch.
In the case of a bad part, residents have to purchase the replacement item, but the Cafe volunteers will install it.
Spending so much time on the toaster oven, Martin said, was more a labor of love and a philosophical committment to enviornmentalism as opposed to an economically-based decision.
He was able to locate the part number, but said he has to do “more troubleshooting” to decide whether it’s worth it or not to order the part, so Feldman will be back.
Echeverria added “we want people to establish more of a relationship with the things they own.”
For example, one service offered is sewing and tailoring.
“Every time you put something on” which had been repaired,” Echeverria said, “you remember, ‘Oh I can use it.'”
And Feldman has done just that.
She had patches put on a favorite pair of pants about a year ago, and still has them.
“I love those pants,” Feldman said. “I won’t throw out things I like unless they can’t be fixed.”
Repair Cafes are held on various Tuesdays and Saturdays, with Tuesdays for small appliances and sewing, and Saturdays for those items as well as bicycles, jewelry, and electronics.
The next event is on October 8. Advance sign-up (epl.org/events, then scroll down to desired date) is strongly encouraged, as those who have registered get priority over walk-ins.
Items fixed (or given a final farewell) over the years have included music boxes, electric typewriters, record players, tape decks, and, as long as we’re going back in time, a transistor radio.
The most unusual item, Echeverria says, was a nose hair trimmer.
A bit more exciting — a gelato-making machine. And once it was fixed, the owner came back another day with treats for all.