Free Geek FAQ

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FAQ: Questions you might be asked about Free Geek

While perambulating in the "outside world", you may find yourself called upon to explain this Free Geek thing. If you are at all discomfited by this sudden promotion to FREE GEEK representative, don't be! Here are answers to questions many of us get at work, from friends and associates, in bars and coffeeshops, and on the sidewalk when accosted by strangers. Please keep in mind that occasionally the policies listed in this FAQ change, and although we will try to keep this bit of documentation up-to-date, we're not perfect.

(This information can be found online at )

General Info

How long has FREE GEEK been around, and how did it start?

FREE GEEK got its start as a good idea that was presented at a booth at the Earth Day festivities in 2000. In September, 2000, the facility on 10th Ave was opened as a recycling and re-use dropoff. It's all been a process of evolution springing from the original good idea: using a community service model, get "obsolete", but still usable, systems diverted from the landfill and into the hands of people who need them.

Hours, address, and bus lines

10 am - 6 pm Tuesday through Saturday. 1731 SE 10th Ave, between Market and Mill; that's two blocks south of Hawthorne and near the 10, 14, 4, 6 and 70 buses. Our phone number is 503 232 9350, though we only answer during business hours. This information is also available on the website - many questions can be answered there if the questioner has web access.

How do you make your money?

We primarily earn money from cash donations, recycling income, and sales in the Thrift Store. Unlike most non-profits, Free Geek is financially self-sufficient and only seeks out grant money for extra projects.

Is this where you can get a free computer?

Yes, that is our Adoption program; people can donate 24 hours of volunteer time in our reuse and recycling facility to earn a computer. Computers come with a class on how to use it and a year of technical support. To get into our Adoption program, please come by and take a tour (11am and 4pm, Tuesday through Saturday) and we can answer any questions and get signed up for the program.

Can we get someone to make a presentation on FREE GEEK at our fair/organization?

It's certainly possible! Send an email to <> and we'll see what we can do.

Why can’t I bring my bag with me?

Free Geek receives many things that have user data on them (hard drives, cell phones, etc) and also a large number of high-value gizmos. Asking volunteers and guests to leave their bags at the front desk is one way to make sure that all of those things stay in the building where we put them. As this is a working factory, this also helps ensure safe conditions for our volunteers, visitors and staff.

Where can I park?

You should not park on the street right in front of Free Geek unless you are just here for a short visit. There are 2-hour parking spots in the neighborhood south of Free Geek and parking enforcement does come around pretty regularly, so remember that you'll need to move your car during your shift. If you are here for a long shift, Free Geek does have a limited number of parking passes that you can borrow while volunteering.

On Saturdays you can park in Zone G areas without a permit.

Is (Mary Smith) working today?

We do not give out information about who is in the building.

Can I run back and talk to my friend/family member?

No. What is his or her name and do you know where he/she is working today? I can go find him/her and have him/her come up here when he/she is at a stopping point in his/her work.

Can I borrow equipment?

Please ask a staff member in the area where you came across the equipment. While we can't make blanket statements, it is sometimes okay to borrow gizmos for testing purposes. You will need signed permission and we will keep track of the borrowed items in our database.

Not really question, but get a lot of people talking about whatever hardship they are going through and trying to suggest a bunch of different things they could do or trade for a laptop, and then wanting to talk to someone in management instead.

We do not do trades at Free Geek. If someone is dissatisfied with the answer that you have given them and they want to talk to a manager, please ask a staff person. Any staff person regularly scheduled at one of the front desks should be able to help you. If everyone is busy, you can call Darren (ext: 111)

Can I bring my drink back there?

As long as there is a lid on your cup/vase/chalice you should be okay to take a beverage with you to your post.

Are you hiring?

If we are hiring, it will be posted on our website at We don't take unsolicited resumes.

Donation Questions

What do you take?

We take all kinds of computer and computer-related equipment, working or not. This includes printers, scanners and gaming devices. We accept most stuff for free, but if you have a large amount of gizmos please call ahead to determine if there will be any charges (503-232-9350). We also accept other consumer electronics, such as fax machines, telephones, audio and video equipment.

Do you want the software and documentation that came with this stuff?

Not really, since we install Free Software on the computers we give away, the proprietary software isn't all that useful. You can recycle the paper with your curbside recycling. We will take the old software disks and and old floppy disks and recycle them.


  • Old video game software (original boxes are sweet!).

What don't you take?

We do not accept:

  • CRT devices (like TVs and monitors) whose glass is broken
  • photocopiers
  • microwaves
  • refrigerators
  • smoke detectors
  • fluorescent light bulbs
  • batteries
  • Styrofoam
  • chickens

Well, where do I send that stuff?

Metro ( or 503-797-1700) would know where you can recycle or dispose of other materials. Smoke detectors can usually be sent back to the manufacturer (they frequently contain small amounts of radioactive material). There are also a couple of places locally that will take photocopiers and large printers: Google, Metro, or the Yellow Pages can be great resources in this case. Batteries can generally go to Battery Exchange.

What is the value of my donation?

Free Geek does not place a value for items donated, but a donor is welcome to check out the Salvation Army Donation Value Guide at:

What do you do with the stuff that gets donated?

Free Geek strives to reuse as much as possible. Computers and other electronics that are deemed obsolete or broken are demanufactured and separated into their basic components. Free Geek then finds a local industrial recycler to process the materials.

What do you do with hard drives? Is the data on my hard drive safe with Free Geek?

See Data Security for a longer series of responses to these questions.

  • At Free Geek we take the utmost care to ensure complete data destruction of all user data that is donated to us. Hard drives that meet our specifications for reuse are removed from their systems and wiped in our hard drive sanitation banks. The process we use complies to DOD (Department of Defense) 5220-22.M standards for data destruction. Every sector of the hard drive is overwritten 3 times using a destructive write which ensures that ALL data on the drive is completely destroyed and totally unrecoverable. Hard drives that are below our specifications for reuse are physically destroyed on site.
  • Magnetic media such as floppy disks and backup tapes are disassembled in our recycling area and the plastic components are shredded by our plastics recycling vendor. Optical media such as cd-rw discs are physically destroyed on site.

Do you do pickups?

We are able to do pickups, mostly for businesses and other organizations. There is often a fee associated with these pickups. We are happy to take your contact information and have a staff member get back to you or you can write directly.

Can you pick up my donation?

Perhaps! Send an email to <pickups AT> to make arrangements. You will receive a reply within a couple of days with potential dates and an estimate for fees.
In your email, please tell us:

  • Organization Name
  • Organization Address
  • Contact Name
  • Contact Phone Number and Email
  • Amount and type of equipment to pick up
  • If equipment is on a pallet, is there a forklift or loading dock at the pick up site?

What's with the prices for the donating stuff? I'm donating it to you, isn't that enough?

Those numbers are suggested donations you can make along with your donation of equipment in order to help support our educational and other programs, helping us pay rent, utilities, salaries, etc. They are not required, but are certainly appreciated.

If they're curious or need more convincing, you can make examples of our adoption classes, our build program, the grants program (and the many nonprofits that benefits) as elements of Free Geek's mission that donations help support.

How do I know my data will be fully wiped?

We lock up all data-bearing devices upon receipt. If you are uncomfortable with this option, we also offer some solutions for you to wipe the data yourself at home. Please ask at the Donor Desk for more information about this.

What happens to the stuff I donate?

We strive to reuse as much material as we are able. Those items we cannot reuse are handled ethically and environmentally. Many items are granted to other organizations to help fulfill our mission of providing access to technology. Some items are sold to help support our program, including free classes for the community and workplace-readiness training.

Volunteer Questions

Who can volunteer? Do I need to know about computers?

Anyone who wants to volunteer time at Free Geek and can make it to our facility is welcome. No computer experience is required. Our facility is mostly handicapped-accessible, and we are sensitive to and can work with people with different abilities. People under 16 years old must be accompanied by an adult who will work alongside him/her.

What do you mean by “logging hours” or “checking out”? Isn’t all that recorded automatically?

By logging your hours at the end of the shift you make sure we know how many hours you actually worked. When you sign in at the beginning of a shift all we do is take attendance. Because volunteers sometimes leave before a shift has ended or extend their shift partway through the day, the time they originally signed up for is not always accurate.

What should I do if a volunteer forgets to log hours and wants to claim the next time they come in?

Please check in with a staff member to follow up appropriately. We can often search volunteer histories to see if they checked in for a scheduled shift.

What kind of computer is it? Can I play games?

It's a FreekBox, built from used equipment that has been donated to the recycling center and running the Ubuntu Linux operating system and other Free and Open Source Software. The current specs of the FreekBox are on our website at Freekboxes come loaded with a bunch of software and because we use all FOSS, you have access to a world of free software. The short answer for playing games is “no, not really,” but if a person has the patience and some degree of computer expertise (and is willing to purchase, on their own, more memory and a better graphics card), there is a way to play certain Windows-specific games on a Freekbox (i.e. World of Warcraft)

Do I get to build my own computer?

If you don't need a computer right away and are interested in learning how to build computers, you may want to join the Build Program. Otherwise, it is and faster for you to go through the Adoption Program. The computers are all built to the same specifications, so you're not missing out, equipment-wise.

How do I sign up?

There are volunteer orientation tours everyday we are open (Tues. - Sat.) at 11am and 4pm. There is no appointment necessary, just show up a few minutes before the tour and check in at the reception desk. The tour takes between a half-hour to 45 minutes and will show you how our different programs work. At the end of the tour you will have an opportunity to sign-up for one of our programs and schedule your first volunteer shift.

What do volunteers do at Free Geek?

  • Adoption Program:
  • Receiving: helping donors unload, sorting through boxes of stuff, dispersing donated stuff throughout the building
  • Recycling: disassembling computers, printers, and other electronics bound for raw material recycling
  • Other: Cleaning, Data Entry, Monitor Testing (heavy lifting)
  • Build Program: Free Geek can teach you how to build computers. If you agree to complete six computers, we will teach you the process, including hardware identification, system evaluation, troubleshooting, and assembly. You can keep the sixth computer you complete for your own personal use.

I don't have time to volunteer; can I just buy a computer?

Sure! The Thrift Store frequently has a variety of computers you could purchase.

Can we put our hours together in order to earn our computer faster?

Yes, you may combine your hours, but it's important for the person/people to take the FreekBox Adoption class. Please keep in mind that it's one computer per person, so if you have three people adding their hours together, they may earn up to three computers.

I notice that you guys keep upgrading the specs of your Freek Boxen. Can I trade mine in for a newer one?

Not exactly. Our policy is that a Free Geek volunteer may earn one FreekBox per person per year, either in exchange for 24 hours of service in the Adoption Program, or as their 6th computer in the Build Program.

Does Free Geek accommodate handicapped volunteers?

Our facility is mostly handicapped-accessible, and we are sensitive to and can work with people with different abilities.

How about volunteers who don't speak English?

While there are some folks on staff who speak other languages, they are not always around to translate. Unfortunately, we don't have the resources yet to accommodate non-English speakers (or people who have significant difficulty understanding or speaking English) without translators. Volunteers are welcome, though, if they can bring a translator with them when they volunteer and when they take the class or call for tech support.

Can I earn another computer for my neighbor/mother/cult leader/top-secret laboratory?

Sure, a year after the last one you earned. We only give out one computer a year to each volunteer.

How can I get a computer (or other hardware) for my church/non-profit/revolutionary sewing circle?

Through our Hardware Grants program Free Geek donates many computers and peripherals to local non-profits and community organizations. Please visit our website to submit a request: - We do not grant hardware to individuals.

Can kids volunteer?

Kids can earn a computer from Free Geek just like anyone else - it's just that they have to have an adult with them while volunteering if they are under 16.

===My kid of X years old (X=<16) wants to do this, I know I have to be here but do I have to sign up too or can I just helicopter watch? If your child is going to be working in the Adoption program you should plan to sign up to work alongside your child. If your child is going through the Build Program you do not need to sign up, but do need to be at hand.

Do I get a printer with the FreekBox?

Unfortunately, we can't refurbish enough good, working printers to be able to give one away with each FreekBox. However, if you're a current volunteer, you may buy a printer from our Thrift Store at a 20% discount.

I've never used Linux before and I hear it's hard to use.

While this is a common misconception and Linux can be very easy to use, with the Adoption Program, Free Geek offers a basic class on how to use and personalize the computer you earn. Free Geek also offers a series of in-depth classes about each OpenOffice program (Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Presentation) AND a class which allows you to find out a little more about how to do what you want to do with your computer (“Super Adopter” class”). Additionally, as an incentive to keep using Linux, Free Geek offers a year of free tech support for all volunteers who keep Linux on their Freekboxes.

I'm going to install Windows on my FreekBox, do I need to take the class?

No, you don't have to take the class, but it's a good idea to give our Operating System a try, because installing a different one will make you ineligible for tech support. We cannot support Windows computers.

I live in Eastern Oregon/Missouri/Liberia, and I can't come in to earn a computer. How can I get one?

The bad news: we're not there (yet.) The good news: we DO have affiliates in numerous other places, including Vancouver BC, Chicago, Columbus, and Indiana. Check our website for other locations. If there's no Free Geek in your area, try using and searching for the name of your town and "free computer". You also might want to search for "Linux Users Group" as many Linux users like to help people set stuff up cheaply.

I can't volunteer my time but I'd like to help Free Geek What can I do?

Spread the word about Free Geek and Open Source Software. If you're not in the area, find out if there's a nascent Free Geek in your area via the startup list. We will always accept donations - perhaps your employer will make a matching donation!

Adoption Questions

What exactly will I be doing in the Warehouse? (Bench vs Table)

You will assist us with taking about the various parts of computers and other technology. The specific items you work on may change from day to day. Staff will always be on-hand to direct your work and answer any questions.

Build Program Questions

Can my Son and I/My SO and I just take up one workstation so we can get in on this day that only has 1 spot left?

Due to space and safety concerns we ask everyone to sign up for their own volunteer spots. If you are working directly with/supervising a youth, you may sign up for a single space.

How soon can I test out of System Evaluation?

You can request to test out of System Evaluation as soon as you feel comfortable with the material. As we strive for high reuse rates, staff may ask you to participate in System Evaluation longer than you expect to ensure you can successfully refurbish systems. Since everyone has different familiarity with computers, we cannot estimate how many sessions it will take for you to test out of System Evaluation.

I already know how to build computers; can I just go to the build section?

Short answer: No. Long answer: Volunteers can test out of Hardware ID and skip right to System Evaluation by taking a “test” with staff. All volunteers in the Build Program must complete at least one shift in System Evaluation before moving to the Build Room. There are two reasons for this: 1) Volunteers learn about our specifications and get familiar with the computers we see in the building, which may be different from what you have seen 2) The work done in System Evaluation is really important in order for Free Geek to be successful; by helping in this area you ensure that there will be computers to build when you get to the Build Room.

How do I get into advanced build?

Once you have built 5 computers in the Build Room you should ask your instructor for a Post Build Application. Give the application to a Build Instructor and we will contact you about other options. Please talk to a staff member if you have not heard back in regards to your application.

Thrift Store Questions

Can I buy other stuff?

Why, yes you can. Our Thrift Store has computers, monitors, printers, networking equipment, stereos and VCRs. We also stock all the computer parts you'll need to work on your computers -- or build one from scratch!

How much are your laptops?

Laptop prices range from $90-$450 and they are priced based on their capabilities including size, battery life, memory and speed.

Do you have “xyz” in stock?

The Thrift Store is like most other thrift stores (think Goodwill) and it does not keep a list of its inventory. We cannot tell you if we have something on the shelf because it may not be here by the time you make it in. Your best bet is to come in and look for yourself. If you're coming from very far away, we will try to find a Thrift Store staff member to help answer your questions.

Do you take returns?

For most sales the Thrift Store will return items with a receipt up to 14 days after purchase for STORE CREDIT. There are no cash returns. As-Is gizmos are sold as is. System sales are covered under different warranties of 6 months with varying degrees of Tech Support offered.

Can I buy X other item?

Ask in the store. Sales do not happen elsewhere in Free Geek. It is not ok to pick up an item from the non-store section of Free Geek and carry it over to the store. The stock in the store is variable, as it depends on our donation stream, so we can't guarantee that we have any given thing (though some are more consistently stocked than others). Please see for more detailed information about our Thrift Store.

Can I trade my computer/VCR/stereo for some other gizmo?

There is no trading of equipment at hardware. Other than the computer and its peripherals which a volunteer earns, everything else Free Geek has for sale is in the Thrift Store only.

Can I get a laptop or other special request?

While we are not able to give these items away through any of our volunteer programs, we occasionally have these items for sale in the store.

There’s this really cool thing that just came into Receiving - can I have/buy it?

Short answer: no. Long answer: We will occasionally give volunteers "dibs" or let them buy things before they get to the Thrift Store, but it is discouraged and there are limits to what they can buy.

Class & Education Questions

I haven’t volunteered with you; do I need to take the tour before I take a class?

Nope. We'd love for you to take our classes.

Do you have Linux classes?

Not exactly. You can get started on the technical end of learning Linux via the Build program, where you'll learn basic command line and some about how the operating system interacts with the hardware. FreekBox adopters get an introduction to user-end Linux (everyday, GUI-based use) in their Adoption class. But we don't yet have a general-purpose Linux intro.

Where can I learn to program?

Local community colleges generally have introductory programming classes. If you already have some programming background, you may be able to pick up one of our commonly used languages by collaborating with our coders group.

Tech Support Questions

Why won’t Tech Support answer the phone? (often includes cursing)

We only have a few phone lines and they may be assisting other customers. Please leave a message and they will try to return your call as soon as possible.

I couldn’t get through to Tech Support so, how do I (insert technical question)?

I am not qualified to answer that question and don't want to accidentally give you an answer that could hurt your equipment. Please wait for someone in Tech Support to answer your question.

How long do they keep my computer?

We are unable to accurately estimate the length of time it will take to repair your system, as each problem is unique. Depending on the severity of your problem, we may need to work on your computer for several days.