(The Center Square) – One million households in Illinois do not have internet devices at home.
That makes doing schoolwork, applying for jobs, registering for utility assistance, contacting doctors far more difficult. A new initiative aims to reduce the digital divide highlighted by the ongoing pandemic.
The Connect Illinois Initiative has launched a new effort to get needy families the devices that they need to get online at home.
One of the partners that has signed on to help is the Jewish United Fund. The group will collect old computers and phones that will be upgraded and donated to low income families.
“Everybody is looking for a way to help their neighbor right now. That old phone, that computer that you forgot you even had, can be a godsend to someone,” said Daniel Goldwin, executive director of the Jewish United Fund.
PCs for People, a nation wide nonprofit, will be a primary driving force in getting used PCs into people’s hands, Goldwin said,
“They are the ones who will collect the materials…refurbish the materials and get them to those who need them,” he said. “They will also be providing jobs to people who run the warehouse.”
Collection of donated computers will begin in early January. People who get new phones and laptops over the holidays are encouraged to set the old devices aside to donate in January. Distribution events will be scheduled in every Illinois county.
Goldwin said donors should delete personal information and empty the trash on their devices before donating. He said protecting the donor’s privacy will be paramount.
“PCs for People has a deep protocol to make sure that hard drives are completely wiped and everything is scrubbed clean,” Goldwin said.
The hardware donation effort is also aimed at companies and nonprofits.
Erin Guthrie of Illinois’ Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity is calling on businesses and nonprofits to donate.
“Sourcing hardware is a limiting factor in this work. We are calling on Illinois companies to help us meet this challenge,” Guthrie told Capitol News Illinois. Likely donors in the nonprofit sector include universities and towns and municipalities that are upgrading their technology.
Companies interested in donating can find information at Illinois.gov/ComputerEquityNetwork.
Tax reductions are available for companies and individuals who participate and follow regulations for donations to charitable entities.
Income guidelines for Illinois residents who are eligible for free computers follow strict federal guidelines. People enrolled in income-based programs such as free or reduced school lunch, Medicaid or SNAP are eligible. Visit Illinois.gov/ComputerEquityNetwork to apply.
The hardware donation program is part of the Connect Illinois Initiative based out of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Its mission is to expand broadband access in the state.