Master Andrew Brown donating the first laptop to San Luis Coastal Unified School District’s Coordinator of Adult Education Programs, Sally Ames, following an urgent need request she made.

Without access to a home computer, students at every level already faced a digital gap in learning, and when the pandemic hit and schools shifted to online classes, that divide expanded. A local service organization with a history of supporting the advancement of education is working to put technology in the hands of those in need.

The Masons of King David’s Lodge # 209 in San Luis Obispo, which also serves the North Coast, are holding a Used Laptop Donation Drive benefiting the San Luis Coastal Unified School District through November 8. The goal is to be able to distribute 250 to 750 laptops.

“A teacher told me about some of their students trying to do online classes over their cell phone which were antiquated cell phones to start with,” said Michael Hammons, Laptop Drive project lead. “This led me to contacting the school district to see if this was truly an issue and also doing analysis around the potential need using demographic data. Obviously, through these discussions it became clear, particularly with all education being online, that there was a need. So, while it was difficult for us to deal with other aspects of online education, like backend infrastructure and hotspots, we could focus on the laptop piece of the puzzle.”
King David’s will collect laptops from donors, get them cleaned up, refurbished, and delivered to local schools for them to distribute to students who need them.

“Many of our Adult Education students in our High School Diploma and English as a Second Language programs do not have personal devices in their homes,” said Sally Ames, coordinator of Adult Education Programs for San Luis Coastal Adult School. “The laptops provided will allow our students to access their education online.”
According to a PEW research survey, one-in-four lower-income teens do not have access to a home computer — rent, utilities and food bills deplete most of the family income.

“The concept of the classroom has been upended with COVID where everything has transitioned to distance learning,” said Hammons. “This combination has put tremendous strain on the existing education system. San Luis Coastal Unified School District has done a great job in meeting these demands; we are just looking to augment what they have done and fill some of the gaps. Ultimately, post-COVID, it is not clear what the classroom will look like. What is clear is that with the current successes we’re witnessing with online learning, the classroom will most likely continue to have a heavy technology component even when the classrooms open back up.”

With parents working from home and siblings all having a deadline of some sort, screen time can even be a struggle for families that can afford only one household computer or device.

“The California Masons started a focus one hundred years ago specifically around helping to fill the gap seen in public education resources,” said Andrew Brown, master of King David’s Masonic Lodge #209. “It was designed to renew the dedication of the citizens of California to the continuation and improvement of our system of free public schools.”
The good news is that through the success of the drive that only started October 15, Masons have already been able to give laptops to meet urgent requests.

While researching the local need, King David’s Lodge realized that the digital divide impacts more than students. During this time of coronavirus restrictions and shelter at home orders, domestic violence is on the rise affecting mostly women, many of whom are single mothers. As they leave abusive relationships to start a new life, computers are vital finding work, remote learning and keeping up with legal documents.

Confident that they will exceed the school district’s needs and that some donated laptops will not meet the required specifications, the Masons will donate excess computers to Stand Strong, formerly the Women’s Shelter Program.

Andrew Brown, King David’s Lodge Master hands a laptop to Jennifer Adams, Interim Executive Director of Stand Strong.

“Many of our clients have had their access severely curtailed or controlled by their abusers, or not had access at all to online learning tools, banking and financial literacy, rental searches, tele-health, tele-counseling, job searches and applications, etc,” said Sandra Gresham, Stand Strong’s director of development and communications. “And now, with remote learning for school children, if they have a computer and wifi access at all, its use is necessarily ceded to their students. Having these laptops from the Masons will allow our survivors and their children to move forward in important ways that are not possible without this equipment.”

Stand Strong has also partnered with Peak Wi-Fi, who has installed wifi in some of their Transitional Housing units.

How to Help
• Laptops must be in good working condition and Windows 10 compliant, at least 8gb RAM, WIFI capable, and intact power cord.
• Remove all personal data before donating

To schedule a pickup of your used laptop, call:
Greg Schlitz: (805) 434-8105 or Michael Luth: (805) 674-6381 (North SLO County & San Luis Obispo city), or email: kf6pbl@hotmail.com (George Brown, King David’s Lodge Secretary).
Laptops can be dropped off at Sunshine Health Foods Morro Bay and Central Coast Surfboards or Café Roma in San Luis Obispo.
“While we will accept cash donations instead of physical laptop donations, we are trying to push for actual laptops because this also supports the broader SLO County sustainability goal of reuse,” said Hammons.

That said, to make a monetary donation, go to: https://www.slcef.org/heroes and click on the “Support School Closure Impact Fund” button at the bottom and follow the instructions for a cash or credit card donation or send a check payable to “San Luis Coastal Education Foundation” with a note in the memo line for “Impact Fund” or “Laptop Drive” to 1500 Lizzie Street, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401.

The Masons of King David’s Lodge # 209 also gives out multiple scholarships to students throughout SLO County every year as well as donates to arts and assisted living programs. To find out more about them, go to slomansons.com.