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Monday, May 27, 2024

Repurpose Project cultivates ‘weird, messy, beautiful’ community

The center offers event space for the Gainesville community to learn, create

The Repurpose Project is hard to miss. The yard is scattered with hand-painted signage, old furniture surrounded by foliage and meticulously organized scraps of materials, displaying an artistic touch unseen in chain thrift stores.

Located off 23rd Avenue, its embellished exterior makes an otherwise normal location stick out. 

But tucked away behind the main building is the Community Center, an equally decked-out event space dedicated to community-building through art, music, play and creativity, all with recycled materials.

The Repurpose Project has been a staple in the Gainesville community for over 11 years after opening in January 2012. 

The non-profit organization was founded by local Gainesville artists Sarah Goff and Mike Meyers with the goal of diverting useful materials ignored by typical thrift stores from landfills. 

As time went on, the organization expanded. The main reuse store and salvage yard turned into an online shop, a second location, a Zero Waste initiative to collaborate with local businesses, and most recently this past January, its refurbished Community Center. 

Although events paused in 2020 due to COVID-19, it is now freshly renovated, equipped with new walls, doors and floors, as well as plenty of public events for people to attend. 

If community members want to work on a sewing project alongside fellow craft enthusiasts, they can attend the monthly Stich ‘n Bxtches. For those who want a new wardrobe, they can exchange their old clothes for new ones at the monthly clothing swap. 

The center hosts art shows as well, the most recent one being “Under the Neon Robe,” a mature art exhibit featuring adult-themed art displays and performances. 

Participants can attend for free but are encouraged to bring donations. While participants are welcome to bring their own supplies for crafting events, they could always find some at the store. 

About four years ago, Megan Flynn, a 25-year-old Gainesville resident, found herself captivated by the creative facade of the building. 

“I was like, ‘What is this place?’” said Flynn. “It was so much stuff and I was very excited about it.” 

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Flynn applied for a job there soon after. 

She began working mostly in the store at the register, restocking and reorganizing shelves. Now the event and outreach coordinator, Flynn is responsible for organizing and hosting many of the activities that take place at the Community Center. 

During the center’s last tie-dye event, Flynn was expecting 30 to 40 people to show up. Instead, there were nearly 150. The event was a hit, and they quickly ran out of tie-dye supplies. 

The following day, the center made a post on Facebook expressing its gratitude and plans for a future tie-dye event. 

After seeing this post, several people reached out with donations of tie-dye leftover from previous projects. Flynn was glad to see the community coming together and repurposing items they weren’t using. 

“We saw that customers really love shopping here and they love talking to each other,” Flynn said. “People want to learn how to do events and they want to share what they know.”

The monthly “Stich n’ Bxtch” events are a prime example of this. 

Karen Garren, a retired wildlife biologist, has been sewing since she was a child. The hobby began when she started sewing ballroom dresses for her Barbie dolls. To her, sewing machines are like a “musical instrument.”

She was happy to attend her second Stitch n’ Bxtch meeting on Sunday, August 27th. 

“I love events like this,” said Garren. “Especially since the pandemic, it’s one of my primary social things.”

Elizabeth Frank, a 55-year-old volunteer, leads the monthly Art Soup events at the community center. After moving to Gainesville from Oregon in 2016, Frank found solace in the organization’s message. 

“It described my next chapter,” Frank said. “I was not a ‘loser.’ I just had to repurpose what I had left. The ‘garbage’ I had control over could be a ‘project’ instead of a big mess.” 

In March 2023, Frank reached out to Flynn with an idea. She wanted to create an event where people could “come together to learn how to make treasure from trash.” Out of this came “Art Soup”.

Frank was inspired by “Stone Soup”, a children’s story where the people of a town contributed anything they had to a meal for hungry travelers. After starting with just a stone, the meal became a delicious soup as more and more people brought ingredients they already had. 

This story became the essence of the event. Each month, they host a different upcycling-related workshop taught by someone skilled in a field of their choosing. 

Previously, Art Soup hosted workshops on artistic pursuits such as cork-carving and tie-dying, as well as workshops focused on more practical skills like knot-tying and vehicle maintenance. 

Frank believes in the importance of these events because they do not only involve people, but also the environment. Because waste is being diverted from landfills, the ecology of our planet is an “invisible participant” in these community gatherings, she said. 

“There is a spirit of discovery, of focusing on a very small object, reframing, repurposing it,” said Frank. “It is funny and weird and messy and beautiful. Just like us.”

In the future, Flynn hopes the Community Center can expand its outreach beyond just East Gainesville. 

“The dream is to be able to close down the entire 18th Terrace, fill it with vendors and local food, and then host like workshops all day long here that people can come in and check out,” said Flynn. 

Contact Bonny Matejowsky at bmatejowsky@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @bonnymatejowsky

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Bonny Matejowsky

Bonny Matejowsky is a third-year journalism major and a Fall 2023 Avenue Reporter. When she’s not writing, you can find her thrifting or watching Twin Peaks.


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