On Saturday, the basement of Saint Paul’s Methodist Church Hall in Mount Vernon was packed with lamps, CD players and even antiques. All were broken to some degree, and volunteers at the Repair Café of Knox County were on hand to help.
Repair Cafés are based on a simple concept: Volunteers with varying skills offer to fix people’s items at no cost. Community members can bring in items within the hours of the event and pick them up when it ends. As an organization, Repair Café originated in the Netherlands in 2009. There are now 2,500 Repair Cafés worldwide, according to the organization’s website.
Mark Tillack, who runs the organization, brought a Repair Café to Knox County in 2018.
“I like to fix things, and I was looking online for how to repair things or what have you, and I saw a Repair Café,” he said. He then began to research them and decided to see if there were any local organizations. “I looked up Ohio, and there was only one at the time, which was in Yellow Springs,” Tillack said. He went to check it out, decided it looked simple enough, and established his own local branch. Since then, more have popped up independently in Toledo, Bowling Green and Cincinnati.
Tillack was ambitious and opened not one, but two Repair Cafés: one in Holmes County and another in Knox County. He explained that this was because he lives between the two, but that “it’s easy to be overzealous.” Ultimately, Tillack closed his Holmes County organization because the one in Knox County gained more traction. “This one took off very well, and we ended up doing about 17 to 20 repairs each time,” Tillack said.
The organization’s events are held quarterly and take place on Saturdays between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Tillack explained that a wide variety of items are brought in each time, and that the most popular items that volunteers fix are electronics and vacuum cleaners. Tillack and his volunteers are always at the ready with boxes of batteries, sewing machines and numerous tools. He also explained that some items or tools can be ordered to help with special repairs and that dedicated volunteers sometimes bring items home to repair.
Overall, the Repair Café of Knox County has been successful, despite Tillack having to cancel some events throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Tillack needs more helping hands. He currently has a few consistent community members that help out but has had trouble finding many who can attend each time. “We had a variety of volunteers for a number of times, and people really enjoyed it,” Tillack said, “but I don’t know where these volunteers went.”
“[The Repair Café] runs on a balance between volunteers and people bringing in things, and I try to plug [the organization] different which ways,” Tillack said. Lately, he has been reaching out to different areas in hopes that he can garner more volunteers and promote the café’s services. He hopes to get more adolescents and young adults involved. “You constantly hear that younger people don’t seem to want to take interest in taking something apart and learning how to fix it,” Tillack said. To combat this, he’s looking to create a mentorship program in which they can learn how to help both others and themselves. “A lot of times if you simply take something apart, sometimes things are very obvious,” he explained.
All things considered, Tillack sees volunteering at the Repair Café of Knox County as something heartwarming. He believes that neighbor-helping-neighbor interactions have become less common, and that bringing them back bonds communities. “People just glow when they get [an item] repaired, because they didn’t think it would be reparable,” Tillack said. “That shows you really what it’s all about.”
The Repair Café of Knox County’s next event will be on May 20 in the Saint Paul Methodist Church Hall’s basement. Contact Mark Tillack at email@example.com to get involved as a volunteer.