Donated equipment and volunteer support bridge digital divide laid bare by COVID-19

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- West Philadelphia residents in need of technology support during the COVID-19 pandemic got some help Thursday from the city.

Edison Freire, with the not-for-profit JEVS Human Services, says 15 laptop computers were distributed to community organizations in the area.

"The Chromebooks are donated through the city's effort, PHLDonateTech," he said.

PHLDonateTech is a city initiative that gathers donated computers from residents and businesses to give to families and people in need across Philadelphia.

Fifteen laptop computers were distributed to community organizations in West Philadelphia.
Fifteen laptop computers were distributed to community organizations in West Philadelphia. Photo credit Hadas Kuznits/KYW Newsradio

When the pandemic hit, Drexel University outreach coordinator Jeffrey Jordan said, he had to close down his office. He turned his porch into his office. That's where he distributed the computers.

"I give community leaders stuff to distribute with everything from bleach to masks to toys," he said. "And now, Chromebooks."

Jordan says these computers are not for kids.

"We're giving (the Chromebooks) to adults who would normally be active in the community," Jordan said.

Pamela Andrews, chair of West Powelton Saunders Park Registered Community Organization, was among those who picked up a laptop for her organization. She says she will use it to help organize financials and help engage people through virtual meetings.

"It is extremely important right now," she said, "because that's pretty much the only way people are going to have pretty much any face-to-face contact."

PHLDonateTech is a city initiative that gathers donated computers from residents and businesses to give to families and people in need across Philadelphia.
PHLDonateTech is a city initiative that gathers donated computers from residents and businesses to give to families and people in need across Philadelphia. Photo credit Hadas Kuznits/KYW Newsradio

Perhaps even more valuable than the devices is the tech support on offer.

Charmain Ramey is one of about 20 volunteers on the tech support crew for the Chromebook recipients. It's their job to help disadvantaged people unlock the value of these digital resources.

She enumerated some of the many applications for the training they provide.

"Being able to find a job, to being able to find affordable housing, to being able to find medical resources, mental wellness resources, find ways to socially connect," she said.

She says they're starting from the basics to help bridge the racial, socioeconomic and generational divides that have been so apparent through the COVID-19 crisis.

"Some people have iPhones but don't even have an idea of all the capabilities of the iPhone," Ramey said.

She and the other volunteers will help make sure recipients know how to navigate the  devices, how to send email, even how to go online and make purchases.