City gives out computers

The Voluntary Action Center and the city plan to help more families in need toward the end of the year.
Wednesday, June 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:40 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Sharon Pearl’s children began yelling with excitement when they learned their family was getting a computer.

“I had both of my kids jumping up and down saying, ‘We’re getting a new computer, we’re getting a new computer,’” she said.

Tuesday, the Pearls picked up the machine, a donation from the city of Columbia through its Homes for Computers program, which distributes surplus computers to residents with disabilities, families with at-risk students and economically disadvantaged people. Thirty-six computers were given away.

“This is wonderful,” Pearl said. “We could have rented one, but the cost adds up. This is a great opportunity for the children.”

Tony St. Romaine, the city’s purchasing agent, developed the idea last year and won the approval of the Columbia City Council in December.

The city then teamed up with the Voluntary Action Center to help advertise the program, identify families in need and distribute the computers. Families contacted the center to express their interest, filled out applications and had their names entered into a drawing. The main requirement was that each family have at least one child between sixth and 12th grades. Everyone who applied received a computer.

“People are very grateful to be able to receive these computers,” said Caira Bolen, an information and referral specialist for the Voluntary Action Center. “It’s great to be a part of something like this.”

The city used to have a contract with MU to sell its old computers at monthly surplus auctions, but it made as little as $50 from the sale of a pallet of five to six computers.

“It was a waste of resources,” St. Romaine said. “We decided there was a lot more social value giving away the computers than making the small amount of revenue through the sales.”

The computers are four to five years old and are no longer adequate to serve on the city’s network. However, they’re more than fast enough for personal use in one’s home, St. Romaine said. While primarily intended for word processing and spreadsheets, they also have Internet capability. City workers wiped the hard drives clean and reinstalled Windows.

The first thing 12-year-old Brittney King plans to do with her family’s new computer is play games.

“I like checkers and Tetris,” she said with a grin, while waiting with her mom to receive their computer.

Her mother, Ina Richardson, said that when Brittney starts seventh grade next fall, she’d be able to use the computer for school projects and homework.

“She had several home projects even in sixth grade,” Richardson said. “She had to go other places with computers to work on them. This is really going to help.”

The city and the Voluntary Action Center plan to distribute computers again toward the end of the year, and they expect the numbers to increase.

“This is a program we hope we can continue for years to come,” Bolen said.

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