Now in its third month, the volunteers of Repair SO (Southern Oregon), are taking in elders’ clean but torn and frayed clothing, hopping on their sewing machines at Ashland Senior Center and making them good for more years of wear.

Fixing worn clothing is something many seniors can’t do, as they may not have the skills, machines or sharp eyesight even to thread a needle, says volunteer Heidi Gottlieb.

Exacerbating the problem, she added Monday at the Senior Center, is the fact that we now live in a society where, if something’s broke, you just throw it away. But that doesn’t need to happen.

Sometimes, all it takes in one minute with a skilled seamstress. You go in the other room of the Senior Center, have lunch in the next room with Meals on Wheels / Food & Friends, then come pick it up.

“With aging, you have decreased dexterity,” says volunteer Natalie Mettler. “Also seniors tend to be very frugal and want to hang onto their things. One older gentleman brought in his late wife’s nightgown with frayed edges. It had a lot of sentimental value for him and we fixed it right up.”

It was inspired by so-called “Repair Cafes” in Holland and Sweden.

You don’t have to be old to use the service. Young mother Kathy Berger brought in a torn diaper, which she didn’t know how to repair. Volunteers mended one and showed her how to do it.

“They are super friendly and now I can do it at home,” says Berger.

Volunteer seamstress Mary Fish Arango says sewing is “a fun passion and hobby to pass onto other people, not just to repair clothing, but to connect them to a network of people who can help them (with other needs). People come in with a coat that’s missing buttons or is frayed and I love helping them connect with memories of someone.”

Gottlieb, a Master Recycler, says she was inspired by that training to focus on getting things back on their feet and going again. She and another volunteer went to Portland to study a highly successful program with 140 volunteers who rotate regularly to different neighborhoods, working in large donated spaces to mend clothing, fix glitchy small appliances, and repair bikes.

The Repair SO service is known for its high spirits and bountiful laughter, a must for close teamwork, they say. The service goes from 10 a.m. to noon on the last Monday of each month.

With the city Parks and Recreation Department’s recent and controversial decision to revamp Senior Center offerings (except for noon meals), the volunteers expressed uncertainty about if they will be able to continue or expand services, says Gottlieb, but they are planning to be there next month with sewing machines.

Michael Black, director of Parks & Recreation, says the Senior Center will stay open, with all the present programs in place, until they hear from the soon-to-be-formed “ad hoc” committee of stakeholders and community members with recommendations to the Parks & Recreation Commission. They will make the final decision on the best location.

“None of the senior programs, as of now, are planning to move,” Black said. “I’m not moving anything. I’m not moving the Senior Center to the Grove. We’re leaving it to the ad hoc committee to make the determination about the best locations.”

Stakeholders, he adds, can include any group or agency connected with seniors. The Grove, near the police station and City Council Chambers, has been mentioned as a spot for some senior activities. Several applications for the ad hoc committee, he said, have already been received.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at