Teach a man to fish, so the saying goes, and you feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man, woman or child to use a computer, and you help them find housing, look for a job, or research California’s missions for a fourth-grade project.
Unless they don’t have access to a computer and can’t afford to buy one.
“Computers help make people self-sufficient,” says Christian Mendelsohn, founder and executive director of Loaves, Fishes and Computers. “But for people having to choose between food and shelter, technology is an unaffordable luxury.”
That’s where LFC comes in, bridging the digital divide in Monterey County with the donated computers it refurbishes and sells for $119.
The volunteer-driven nonprofit (Mendelsohn, the only full-time paid employee, says he makes minimum wage) has provided more than 685 computers to low-income folks since 2009.
Volunteers like Justina Lopez, an MPC student with no previous hardware experience, receive extensive training and learn how to clean and rebuild donated machines, turning them into complete, warranty-guaranteed systems.
Lopez, who volunteers almost 20 hours a week, also does outreach at The Red Barn every week with Mendelsohn, talking to families in Spanish about the inexpensive computers for sale.
What Mendelsohn really wants to do, however, is give the computers away.
If LFC’s new Tech Angels program takes off, he’ll get his holiday wish. For every $200 donation, LFC will give a free computer system to a qualified recipient. Peacock Acres and Community Partnership for Youth, two of LFC’s partners (it works with dozens of local organizations and schools), have identified families that need computers, Mendelsohn says.
His organization will funnel the machines to these nonprofits, which in turn will give them away to their clients.
Michelle Neugert’s grandson came to live with her three years ago. He was 9 and wanted a computer to play games. At the time, FLC sold its computers to low-income individuals for $70.
“I told him, ‘You’ve got to save $70 and buy your own computer,’” Neugert says. “When he came to live with me, all he did was buy candy. He’d get a buck, go to the store and spend it on candy.”
He saved his $2 weekly allowance, washed dishes, did chores for an extra quarter or two, stockpiled his Christmas money, and in three months had enough to buy a computer.
“The act of paying for it himself, saving money, being responsible – it made a world of difference,” she says. “It made him more confident. And these days, if you’re not computer savvy, you’re going to be left behind.”
Mendelsohn hopes “tech angels” get the message: Computer literacy empowers people to improve their lives.
“Knowledge, as they say, is power,” he says. “We want to provide that window, that tool to information.”
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