New life for old lights

Katie Jones can take your old Christmas lights and make them shine again. Last year, she donated 23 refurbished strands of light to Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh.

It was an all too familiar scene, a Christmas tradition of sorts, for all the wrong reasons.

As Katie Jones, Academy Place, prepared to decorate for the holidays last year, nearly half of her family’s Christmas lights didn’t work.

As an electrical engineer and above average DIYer, she was determined not to let the lights go to waste. She would fix them herself.

“It was driving me nuts that so much of it goes to waste,” she said. “I’m like, ‘I’m going to fix these, whatever it takes.’”

What started as an at-home project to fix the family’s broken Christmas lights turned into a communitywide effort. Jones collected strands destined for the trash, fixed them and donated them to Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh to be hung on the homes of folks in need of support. She’s continuing the tradition this year.

“In the end, I was blown away by how many people jumped on it,” she said. Last year, she donated 23 strands of lights to Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh, whose mission is to support low-income homeowners in the city to keep their houses safe and livable.

Jones got the idea to expand the project outside of her home last year, after seeing several strands of lights sitting on the curb as she walked her children to school. She decided to see what she could do. She took them home with her and within 10 minutes inside her husband’s home workshop, she had all of the strands working. So, she took to social media and asked Mt. Lebanon residents to donate their broken lights.

“When I posted on Facebook—and a few other places–I had a bunch of people say, ‘Oh my God, please take my lights!’ because they feel bad throwing them out,” she said.

Jones had already been volunteering with Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh and was delighted to find that they would accept the lights and use them to brighten the homes of some of their clients.

Jones took over her husband’s workshop and spent “a solid work week” trying to fix the lights.

“There’s a number of different things that go wrong with Christmas lights,” she explained. For LED lights, it’s often that the terminals are corroded. For incandescent lights, many times a light would burn out and take out the whole strand.

“I’m an electrical engineer, so I really took it as a personal vendetta with these lights to get them fixed,” Jones said. “Some of them were very quick fixes. Some of them took five minutes and then some of them took two to three hours.”

Jones was happy that she could provide a bright spot during the holidays for clients of Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh.

“Even if I had just been fixing them for my own use, I would have been like ‘look at what I did!’ But the fact that I got to turn around and give them to Rebuilding Together, I was very pleased with how it turned out,” she said.

“The big thing for me that started it was trying not to be wasteful. Especially in this community, there are so many people with so much, why not share? Don’t be wasteful with your good fortune.”

Photo by Elizabeth Hruby McCabe