By February 2020, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City had donated 100 Bank laptops to community organizations across the Bank’s seven-state District as part of an initiative to expand broadband access. Originally the Bank wanted to create case studies to show the variety of ways computer donations could help meet community needs. The Bank’s Community Development team would then promote the case studies to other employers as a low-cost way employers can support their community.

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic, however, resulted in an accelerated timeline and expansion of the mission. On April 13 the Kansas City Fed launched the Employer Laptop Challenge to encourage other employers to donate, as well. As of late July, just three months into the campaign, more than 1,500 devices have been donated as part of the Employer Laptop Challenge

Before the pandemic, the Community Development team chose organizations throughout the Tenth Federal Reserve District that, together, would show the range of needs donated computers could fulfill. Even then it was estimated that about a third of low-income households lacked a home computer. Now more than ever a computer at home is a lifeline to services, education and work.

Perkins Library Director Alison Bloyd describes how the organization quickly pivoted to help meet the needs of their community.

The organizations selected and their original plans for donated laptops:

  • Center for Employment Opportunities, Oklahoma City, to help ex-offenders with job searches, applications and skills training.
  • Connecting for Good, Kansas City, to continue gently refurbishing used computers and donating them to nonprofits serving lower-income residents, or selling equipment to low-income residents for $10 to $150.
  • Center for Work Education and Employment, Denver, to help single parents transition from public assistance to good jobs.
  • Denver Housing Authority, to provide computer and internet training to senior residents.
  • Perkins Public Library, Perkins, Oklahoma, to launch a youth coding club for students. 
  • reStart Inc., Olathe, Kansas, to enable clients in its youth transitional living program to pursue education, skills development and jobs.
  • ConnectLNK, Lincoln, Nebraska to provide broadband access and skills training to neighborhood residents.

However, just as the groups were receiving the donated laptops, the onset of the global pandemic disrupted plans. Some, like reStart, could move forward as intended. But in other cases, the recipient organizations had to pivot to respond to an even more critical needs. The Perkins Public Library is one example.

The library closed to the public just two days before the youth coding club was scheduled to start. Then the library began receiving urgent requests for public computer and Wi-Fi access. “The calls we got were heartbreaking,” said Alison Bloyd, library director. “Our patrons were needing them to apply for benefits, to track their stimulus payments, to do teledoctor conferences.” The library began lending the laptops. “We were able to actually check out laptops for people to use in their vehicles on our Wi-Fi,” Bloyd said. “If they don’t have internet at home or Wi-Fi at home, they just use it in the parking lot and return it before they leave.”

Just days after the campaign’s launch in April, employers across the country had contacted the Kansas City Fed. A few, such as the Platte Valley Bank in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and SnapIT Solutions in Overland Park, Kansas, had devices ready to donate. Other employers requested guidance on how to make the donation process work. Some employers said they planned to donate used computers when their employees returned to on-site operations in the summer. 

FURTHER RESOURCES

Go to KansasCityFed.org/ten for video of Connecting for Good and Perkins Public Library officials discussing the importance of donated laptops. To learn more about the program or get involved, visit 

kansascityfed.org/community/digital-divide

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Author

Jeremy Hegle

Senior Community Development Advisor

Jeremy W. Hegle, a native Missourian, was 12 when he began helping on his grandfather’s farm. He later served in the Army National Guard, launched a business support organization…