The COVID-19 pandemic brought the term “digital divide” to the forefront of many conversations. The Pew Research Center conducted a survey and discovered that 29 percent of families with children who need computers for virtual learning said it was very or somewhat likely they would have to use a cellphone. And 21 percent said they lacked a home computer to begin with. Across low-income families and communities, the gap has remained consistent, leading to greater demand for affordable and easily accessible computer technology. Luckily, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization from Hoboken is stepping in to try and bridge that gap — Computers 4 People.
Founded in 2019 by then 15-year-old Dylan Zajac, the organization collects and refurbishes electronics, including computers, tablets, laptops, keyboards, monitors and more. It then donates them to individuals in underdeveloped communities.
“We currently serve a variety of individuals in need: seniors, students, families, formerly incarcerated individuals, homeless individuals, and more,” Zajac says.
The Inspiration Behind Computers 4 People
Zajac’s family is rooted in industries that complement Computers 4 People. His father works in the tech industry, while his mother has worked for several non-profit organizations. Zajac also has experience with collecting and refurbishing computers to be sold on eBay.
His interest in donating computers came first as an idea from one of his friends, who suggested they get computers refurbished for homeless shelters. Over time, that idea grew beyond shelters, and soon Zajac was applying for a 501(c)(3) non-profit status for Computers 4 People.
Along with that, he also created a website, recruited board members, found storage space, and, of course, began collecting computers and other electronic devices. He accomplished all of this within a year of the idea’s inception, launching Computers 4 People in early 2019.
The Donation Process
All of the electronics that Computers 4 People handle are voluntarily donated. Donors can be individuals, small businesses or companies. There are a few requirements that interested parties must bear in mind.
The equipment must be in good working condition and no older than 10 years. If the equipment matches these prerequisites, donators can go to the site’s Donate page and fill out a form specifying what kind of equipment they’re donating and the amount. If they are located in Northern New Jersey or the New York City area, they can schedule a time and place for the pick-up. Computers 4 People promises to approve equipment within 48 hours of the donation form’s submission.
From there, the organization will email a tax receipt for the donation’s retail value. Donated computers have their old data erased and their components refurbished before they’re placed in storage.
Computers 4 People accept cash and check donations via their PayPal. All money goes to funding the organization and assists with purchasing computer parts and general operating costs.
Applying To Get a Free Computer
Individuals and non-profit organizations can apply for a donated computer by filling out a form electronically or after printing it. Because the organization is still small, individuals must be located in the Northern New Jersey area or New York City to receive their electronics. They must also have low or moderate-income based on the Federal Poverty Index, and are eligible for only one computer. Individuals must also be sponsored by a member of their school, the non-profit for which they work or their place of worship. The sponsor will receive an email with instructions for how to write a recommendation. The applicant’s form will then be reviewed.
Nonprofits apply in a similar manner. They can specify the number of computers they need as well as how they intend to use them. The organization’s Application Committee meets at least once a month to vote on which applications to accept. Afterward, they inform the applicant and give instructions on how to pick up their new computer.
Volunteering and Education Opportunities
Computers 4 People welcomes anyone interested in volunteering with the organization. The site has a volunteer form, which applicants can fill out.
Additionally, the organization accepts more than just those with experience in refurbishing computers. People can apply to pick up and deliver computers and electronics. The organization also looks for helpers willing to complete grant requests, assist in marketing and fundraising, and recruit other volunteers.
The organization even has a helpful guide to help recipients of donated computers set up their devices.
Computers 4 People’s Impact and The Future
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many areas of life became reliant on computer technology. However, that reliance has led to greater attention on the “digital divide,” especially in underdeveloped communities that don’t have access to greater technology. This is especially pertinent in schools across New Jersey, which were forced into virtual learning since March 2020.
This makes Computers 4 People and its mission all the more important.
Since November 2019, Computers 4 People has donated 330 computers, according to the website’s personal tracker. 72.4 percent was donated by individuals, while 27.6 percent came from non-profit organizations. According to a post made on the organization’s Instagram on May 27, Remix Market NYC helped donate over 100 laptops and Chromebooks.
The organization has also received much help from its numerous partners, including SGE Inc., Flash Tech and community organizations such as The Fortune Society. The Hoboken Jubilee Center was actually its first partner to receive a computer donation. The website has a full lost of associated partners.
Zajac estimates that every week, Computers 4 People donates 15 computers to people and communities in need. The organization continues to grow, with more volunteers and partner organizations pitching in. While for now, it is small, Zajac hopes it will become a nationwide charity known for promoting equity and access to opportunity.
“These computers have a significant impact on these individuals allowing education, job search, and connectivity,” he says. “By saving, refurbishing, and donating these computers, we don’t only help people, but help reduce toxic e-waste harming the environment.”
More information regarding Computers 4 People can be found on their website.