Homes for Computers project donates computers to needy Columbia families

Saturday, February 16, 2013 | 5:08 p.m. CST; updated 7:32 p.m. CST, Saturday, February 16, 2013

COLUMBIA — Standing by her new computer, eight-year-old Olivia Tilford had a grin painted on her face.

"She has a math lab that she has to do online, and she doesn't have to go to the library anymore, so it'll save us some time," LaTasha Tilford, Olivia's mom who will also be going back to school soon, said. "It's really exciting."

The Tilfords were one of about 30 families who claimed new home computers through the Homes for Computers project Saturday morning at the Downtown Optimist Club at 1201 Grand Avenue.

The program, now in its 10th year, is organized by the Voluntary Action Center in partnership with the Downtown Optimist Club. The basis for the project is simple, said Ron Schmidt, program director with the center: The City of Columbia donates 30 and 35 computers every year that had been replaced with newer ones, and Schmidt finds new owners for them.

To be eligible, a person must live in the city limits, have a child who attends school between kindergarten and 12th grade, and be at or below 200 percent of the poverty line.

“When a computer is not picked up, we find a home for it right away,” Schmidt said. “There’s always more interest than computers.”

Those who came to pick up a computer had to present a letter of invitation to the program, photo ID and a thank you card. The cards serve to let city employees know they're helping people, Schmidt said.

Before leaving with the new device, everyone picking up a computer watched a presentation on Internet safety given by detective Tracy Perkins of the Boone County Sheriff's Department Cyber Crimes Task Force. The tips in the presentation included setting Internet safety preferences, being careful of pop-up ads and being cautious of scams.

The presentation was added after the first several years of the program, Rick McKernan of the Downtown Optimist Club said, because the new owners were at risk of cyber crimes.

“The computers are going to homes that need them,” Schmidt said. “They’re getting access that they didn’t have before.”

Supervising editor is Simina Mistreanu.

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