Screen Time

Step one at many Loaves, Fishes & Computers workshops is to take apart a computer and then reassemble it, designed to make digital learning less intimidating and more accessible.

Christian Mendelsohn has always liked working on things, so when he found an old desktop computer destined for the landfill back in 2009, he decided to take it home and fix it. He created nonprofit Loaves Fishes & Computers after he refurbished that first computer. “I gave it to a low-income child [I knew], and he left me a great voicemail message,” Mendelsohn recalls.

Over the last decade, LFC has provided thousands of affordable computers to a multitude of families across Monterey County. With six staff members and a large group of passionate volunteers, the organization has grown from Mendelsohn’s kitchen table to a bigger venue – including a store that sells refurbished computers – on South Main Street in Salinas. LFC is still focused on that original mission: closing the digital divide by providing computers to those in need.

“We want everyone to live up to their fullest potential through the tools and services we provide,” Mendelsohn says. In the last year, LFC distributed nearly 1,400 computers, more than one-third of which were given for free. Computers in the store sell to qualifying individuals for as low as $59.

But providing affordable computers is only one leg of what Mendelsohn says is the three-legged stool of digital inclusion: owning a computer, knowing how to use it and having access to high-speed internet. One of LFC’s goals is for everyone in Monterey County to be able to learn how to use a computer, within 15 minutes of where they live.

“It’s not teaching digital literacy to the kids,” Mendelsohn says. “It’s teaching the parents.” That happens at LFC’s parent-child workshops, which aim to make newcomers feel less intimidated by computers over half-day, bilingual workshops. Parents create an email address and learn how to safeguard their child’s internet usage. The event wraps up with a digital scavenger hunt – and families leave with their own Google Chromebook. LFC also points people to low-income options from internet service providers around the county that cost as little as $15 a month.

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Mendelsohn says LFC’s success is from its thousands of volunteers over the years. Around the building, a number of them tinker with dismantled computers or click through computer screens. “I love it,” says Dalia Gonzalez, who recently became a staff member after volunteering for several years. “I like the people here.”

Mendelsohn echoes that: “I love the team I work with,” he says. “And the people we serve.”

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