Personal education and workplace interactions have been moved to a virtual format amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and demand for technology has skyrocketed.
For those who couldn’t afford equipment or didn’t understand how it worked, Loaves, Fishes & Computers stepped in to help. Christian Mendelsohn founded the Salinas-based non-profit organization that gave away thousands of devices to families for little to no cost during the pandemic.
Even before the pandemic broke out, Loaves, Fishes & Computers had a mission to provide low-income families with computer skills.
“Much of our community is Latino, many of whom are farm workers,” said Gabriela López Chávez, Managing Director of Loaves, Fishes & Computers. “We really hope to help people who don’t have access to a computer, can’t afford it, or don’t know how to use it.”
The company serves the counties of Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito.
Loaves, Fishes & Computers is trying to bridge the digital divide by offering computer literacy workshops called Together and Connected for children and adults.
In the first half of the workshop, you will learn how to fix a computer. Then there is a breakout session where the kids learn how to fix a computer while the adults learn about internet safety, from cyberbullying to raising awareness of who is trying to connect with kids online.
“It’s a way of connecting parents and children,” said López Chávez. “They can also learn together how to use a computer and be a responsible media consumer and user.”
Loaves, Fishes & Computers distributed around 1,800 computers in 2019 and 2,500 computers in 2020. With proof of low income, families can buy computers for $ 59-200 and Chromebooks for $ 35 to sometimes free.
“I see it as a situation of economic justice,” said Lopez Chavez. “That’s why it’s important to do this work. This is important because if we don’t have the tools to navigate, things can be withheld from us. “
During the pandemic, employees noted an increased need for volunteers.
The organization accepts volunteers of all ages – the youngest is currently 12, the oldest 70 years old. You play various roles in the renovation process, including evaluating equipment to see if it’s usable, opening hard drives to erase donor information, replacing old or broken parts, and finally going through an extensive quality control checklist.
“We are doing everything in our power to ensure that we sell the highest quality computers and Chrome books,” said volunteer Jose Santiago in Spanish.
For people who want to volunteer, it helps if you are good with your hands and have basic computer skills. The Loaves, Fishes & Computers representative said the organization provides “an environment in which you learn while you walk”.
For the next three years, Loaves, Fishes & Computers will be led by their Pay It Forward program, which aims to expand reach in Santa Cruz County, San Benito County and all of Monterey County through improved work development.
Older, more experienced computer technicians mentor younger volunteers who want to improve their skills.
Loaves, Fishes & Computers also offers Connecting Seniors with Technology, which offers free computers and basic technology classes for seniors. The courses consist of internet safety, online shopping, chat or email, and many other skills.
For more information about the courses, call (831) 512-1330. The courses are limited to 50 seniors aged 60 and over.
“Technology moves quickly, and as parents we need to know how it moves fast and keep up with our children,” said López Chávez. “There are so many social and emotional risks your child can experience online, but there are also many incredible benefits they can get from it.”
David Rodriguez is an education reporter and staff photographer for The Salinas Californian. For tips or story ideas, you can email him at [email protected] Subscribe to support local journalism.