Free Geek and the Trail Blazers are trying to shorten the line to use the laptop.
Free Geek, a Portland nonprofit that’s been running for 20 years, has observed as COVID-19 increases demand for technology access. The organization collects cellphones, laptops, computers, and tablets, and then refurbishes the devices and distributes them to those in need who apply through their program, says Free Geek executive director Hilary Shohoney.
While technology inequities have existed for years, Shohoney says the need is so much higher now that Free Geek is seeing its shelved cleared of donations on a daily basis. In 2020, at least 75,000 Oregon students didn’t have access to technology amidst a pandemic, she says.
“There is a big difference between people who have access to technology and the skills to use it and people who don’t,” Shohoney says. “It falls along the same lines of every other type of marginalization that we see—so [it’s] race, socioeconomic status, education level.”
Part of what driving demand: Multiple people in each household now need access to the internet for work and school, at the same time. In households with less devices, that creates a web traffic jam—and can lock low-income students out of distanced learning.
“It was this whole extra layer of challenge for folks. If a household has one computer and you have three children and two adults trying to work—it’s really untenable, Shohoney says. “We saw that when COVID hit, people who were otherwise able to cobble together the resources to make it work we’re no longer able to do that.”
That’s where the Blazers come in. This month Free Geek has partnered with the Rose Quarter and the Trail Blazers to hold donation drives each weekend of April. People can bring their used and spare devices—laptops, tablets and cellphones—to the Benton Lot, a surface parking lot on the north side of Memorial Coliseum.
Dropoffs are welcome from 11 am to 2 pm this Saturday and Sunday, April 17-18. The donation drive will go on for two more weekends in April at the Benton Lot and a few other locations, but Free Geek accepts technology donations year-round.