Computer Refurbishing bus to tour rural Minnesota

I’m happy to share this story from a MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) partner. We got a small flavor of what their mobile computer rehab project at the 2011 Minnesota Broadband Conference. It appears that despite a few hiccups – the opening night has led to a touring show…

Saint Paul, Minnesota nonprofit organization PCs for People is leading a mobile computer refurbishing project funded by the Blandin Foundation, Otto Bremer Foundation and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The project seeks to reduce electronic waste while simultaneously helping bridge the digital divide in greater Minnesota.

“We have created a mobile unit to travel to cities across the State of Minnesota, refurbish donated computers on-site and give them right back to families in the local community”, said Casey Sorensen Executive Director of PCs for People. “We are very excited about the project, last month we gave 113 computers to families in Duluth and saw overwhelming demand. Families were extremely grateful since over 80% were receiving their first home computer!” noted Casey. Over the next 7 months PCs for People will travel to 10 communities to replicate the successful Duluth event:

  1. Alexandria
  2. Bemidji
  3. Crookston
  4. Fairmont
  5. Austin
  6. Marshall
  7. Hutchinson/Litchfield
  8. Faribault/Rice County
  9. Cambridge
  10. Hibbing

The project will focus on getting computers to two demographics that generally do not own home PCs; low income families and senior citizens. Recipients are identified through partnerships with local community organizations such as Boys and Girls Clubs, Head Start programs and Senior Centers. To be eligible for a computer each recipient attends a basic computer training session and they must be below the 150% poverty level.

Two critical components to making sure the computer is useful are an internet connection and ongoing technical support. Each computer comes with free support from a local computer repair shop and self-paced basic computer skills training. For internet, recently ISPs such as Comcast and CentruyLink have created $10 a month high speed internet programs exclusively for low income households. Sorensen said, “Families that receive a computer through our organization have never had the opportunity to search for jobs or use search engines from their homes. It is a big deal for them.” With an average income under $12,000 per year recipient families generally can’t afford $50-60 a month for internet. Sorensen mentioned, “In most cases families want a computer for the Internet and for school work. Even though they can’t afford the most expensive service we have found they are able to prioritize a $10-20 internet bill.”

According to Michael Graif, project lead for PCs for People’s Mobile Refurbishing, finding people in need of a computer is the easy part. “What we need now to make sure these events are successful is to find local businesses willing to donate their old computers.” Prior to arrival in each city, PCs for People will reach out to local businesses to source at least 100 computers. “This is a win-win for businesses needing to manage their end-of-lifecycle digital assets in a cost-effective way, and for the community,” said Michael Graif. “Not only are we offering businesses valuable data wiping and hardware recycling services for free, but it’s an opportunity to help their local community.”

Businesses looking to participate in the program and donate their equipment should contact Michael Graif at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by calling (651) 243-0093.

PCs for People, a non-profit organization dedicated to collecting and refurbishing used computers for distribution to those who lack this essential communication and education tool. Since 1998, the organization has distributed refurbished computers to over 10,000 Minnesota families.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, MIRC, Rural by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

1 thought on “Computer Refurbishing bus to tour rural Minnesota

  1. Just wanted to post a quick update on the tour from PCs for People…

    Right now, we are planning a Fairmont distribution on February 17th and a distribution event in Alexandria on March 3rd. After these, we are targeting Marshall for a mid-March date and Crookston and/or Cambridge soon after depending on how quickly we can source computers.

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