After years of fixing thousands of home goods for free, environment nonprofit Columbia Springs must temporarily pause its popular repair program due to funding constraints.
Kat Cory, Columbia Springs executive director, announced Monday that Repair Clark County was halted “effective immediately” due to a lack of funds, chiefly from the Washington Department of Ecology. The state agency’s waste reduction and recycling education grant was the primary resource sustaining Columbia Springs’ program for six years.
Despite seeking support from other resources and individual contributions, Columbia Springs decided to preserve its current funding.
“Given the current financial circumstances, temporarily pausing the program is a necessary measure to ensure the long-term stability and continuity of our organization,” Cory said.
Repair Clark County promotes a simple practice: reduce the number of items an individual purchases and throws away. Anyone, regardless of their income, could bring small appliances, electronics, garments, jewelry and decor to have it fixed for no charge.
Volunteers are the lifeblood of Repair Clark County’s operations, managing everything between repairs to transporting supplies. And hundreds showed up every year to help, Cory said.
“(Fixers) are dedicated and talented individuals who believe in repairing what is possible and reducing what might otherwise be considered trash and discarded,” said Ellen Wilson, a longtime Columbia Springs volunteer and occasional Repair Clark County “client.”
During its operation, the program took many forms, continuously evolving to meet people where they needed help or find new ways to reduce waste.
Volunteers sewed reusable gift bags to “rewrap” how gift-giving looks during the holidays, an effort to reduce wrapping paper trash. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Repair Clark County persisted amid social distancing requirements and implemented a remote program where they fixed belongings and sewed masks in their homes.
Wilson, who worked directly with clients, saw a range of items come across fixers’ workspaces: record players with sentimental value, worn gardening tools and a 40-year-old toaster.
Larry Juday, who had been a fixer for five years, took pride and joy in tinkering with small things, such as toasters, phones and watch batteries. Hours easily passed as he sat hunched at a table, attempting to restore a damaged or seemingly defunct item. By Juday’s estimate, he patched up hundreds of lamps and has no intention of stopping.
“I’m not going to miss anything, because the program isn’t going away,” he said. “I’m going to make sure it doesn’t go away.”
Altogether, volunteers stitched, refined and tinkered upwards of 7,500 items during the program’s lifespan, according to Terra Heilman, who headed Repair Clark County. And it’s this want to help others that she will miss the most.
“The most valuable thing you can give is time, because that’s one thing none of us can get back,” she said. “Time is precious and these people, in some cases, have given hundreds of hours for free.”
For those involved with Repair Clark County, the most disappointing aspect of the pause is that a community need remains, and there aren’t many local resources that compare. The nearest option similar to Repair Clark County is Repair PDX, a Portland-based group that regularly hosts fixing events.
But there is still hope Clark County’s fixing opportunity will return.
Columbia Springs continues to seek alternative funding sources and community partnerships, — and reapply for Ecology’s grant. Donations can be made at the nonprofit’s annual fundraiser, “Hooked on Nature,” in September.
“We are committed to bring repair back online,” Cory said. “It’s one of our most successful programs, which speaks to the need.”
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.