Thanks to organizer Frank Kaufman, the Repair Café comes to the Port Union community centre every six weeks to repair household items. Above, Frank examines a Singer sewing machine from the 1930s.

By Kathy Rowe

The Repair Café is a volunteer group that organizes events around the city where fixers with expertise repair household items for free. Donations are always welcome as this allows them to purchase things like nuts, bolts and wires that are needed for repairs. People are encouraged to bring in items such as small appliances, electronics, jewellery, clothing, bikes and more.

We are very fortunate to have a recurring Repair Café at the Port Union CC every six weeks, and for that we can thank organizer Frank Kaufman. He understands the demand for a regular community event. “The key to the Repair Café,” Frank said, “is that if no parts are needed, we fix the item right on the spot. Should a part replacement be necessary, if we have the needed part on hand, we put it in right away.

“If we don’t have the part and it’s early in the day, I will look up the part and find out where it can be purchased. The visitor can go and buy the part, bring it back the same day, and we will install it. If the part has to be ordered, the visitor can come back to us at the next scheduled Repair Café event and we will be there to finish the repair. That’s why it’s so great to have this Repair Café on a regular basis.”

The very first Repair Café was founded in 2009 in Amsterdam. Repair Café Toronto began approximately five years later in 2014. Frank found out about it through the Toronto Tool Library, which was looking for people who could repair the donated tools. Fixers at the library were also fixers at Repair Café Toronto. Frank soon found himself repairing items at both places, until the Tool Library moved. Eventually, Frank thought it would be advantageous to start a Repair Café near his home in Centennial, and his wife Annemarie (a talented sewer/quilter) joined him.

Frank grew up in Hungary and as a child he was always taking things apart. “By the time I was 8 I had built my first radio,” he said. He studied electrical engineering at university in Hungary, but after one year he left for Canada. He and Annemarie, who was raised in Holland, met and married in Canada.

“My mother sewed everything,” said Annemarie. “There was never any waste, everything was repurposed. The Repair Café is so great because we are reusing and recycling.”

It’s obvious that this pair enjoys fixing things for people and they are really good at it. But the truth is they love being with their like-minded fixers and meeting residents. “We love the contact with the people,” said Frank. “When someone brings in a broken item, if I can do my magic to get it working again, that is the greatest satisfaction I can get! Our success rate is 75% to 80%.”

As far as fixers are concerned, Frank and Annemarie count on word of mouth and they get whoever they can for each session. Their 16-year old grandson joins them as a fixer every now and then. Frank admitted, “We would love to have more young people as fixers. We would give them volunteer hours.”

Upcoming Repair Café dates at Port Union are: April 20, May 25 and July 6.