User:Halfasspete/article Source nonprofits

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Feel like a geek or just give like one

What to do with the computers in the closet, my parents have two, I have two and my sister has two as well. Also, there are the two tired printers and even my husband’s outdated cell phone. We wanted to get rid of them responsibly. Luckily, for those us in the Portland area is the nonprofit called Free Geek.

I loaded the Macs, the printers and assorted pc software into the pickup and headed to Free Geek's warehouse for a drop off and a chance to catch their daily twelve o’clock tour.

Free Geek began operating in the year 2000. They provide recycled and repaired computers at no cost to non profit organizations and to any individual at the very low cost of volunteering. Even just four hours of working, gives a volunteer a fifty percent discount at the Free Geek thrift store. A FreekBox computer loaded with GNU/LINUX operating system can be adopted from them for twenty-four hours of volunteer service in their recycling warehouse. Last year, the organization prevented 240 tons of electronic equipment from going directly to the landfill. It is amazing to see how many computers are processed through their warehouse. They receive donations from businesses, county offices and individuals. All of the work to rebuild and recycle is performed by volunteers.

Volunteers unloaded the back of my pick up. The receiving clerk itemized my donation on a receipt which I took to the front desk. I paid the required ten dollars per terminal and the posted donation amounts for the remaining items. Currently, the minimum required donation is ten dollars per monitor, working or not. Additional amounts requested for peripheral equipment are listed on their web site,, and at the warehouse. I, then mingled with others interested in their adoption program and did not have to wait long for the noon tour to begin.

Tony, a volunteer with over 1000 hours of service, guided us through the same trip our computers will make. Loading volunteers sorted our machines onto shelving and volunteer techs worked at testing hard drives. As a note to the cautious, Free Geek's booting up software effectively erases the hard drive of all information. Further testing strips the computer of any personal information five more times during the rebuilding process.

As a non geeky computer person, parting out old hard drives, 1995 or earlier, looked like the the work even I could perform with confidence. Volunteers work breaking down computers and sorting the plastic pieces from the metal, the usable components from the unusable. At current prices, each computer hard drive holds about eight dollars of gold. The process of extraction is difficult but keeps the non- profit running closer to the black. Gloves, hammers and pliers are provided to dismantle with no fear, what was once an expensive machine.

Nearby this recycling department, we saw pallets holding eighty Grantbox computers ready to ship to Uganda. These machines required extra care to ensure successful operation in the third world country. Low wattage use is one necessary modification computers traveling out of country need, as well as a meeting the tough standards Free Geek sets for all their computers.

Free Geek works to put computers anywhere requested and volunteers continually work on building Grantboxes in order to fill the grants from various countries. This involves the actual building of the machine as well as the programing of the computer. One of the next projects will fill a grant from Bolivia.

“Scary smart” volunteers, as Tony called them, worked at programing terminals to function using the GNU/LINUX software. This software makes even the slowest of computers operate at more than acceptable speeds for the average user.

The “scary smart” professional volunteers offered their time to mentor other volunteers in building the assigned five Grantboxes. At the completion of the fifth computer, the volunteers then go on to build a sixth for themselves. As Tony said, “The neat thing about this program is that by the sixth computer the volunteer is able to build a really fast efficient machine to take home.”

Once a volunteer aquires a Freek Box they get the education needed to use one. We entered the community classroom offering us a chance to see the finished products at work. The classroom offers new computer owners a place to learn the LINUX system and use the internet hook ups provided free of charge.

Tony surprised us by offering donated baked goods from Wild Oats, because, as he reported, it takes more then computers to keep Free Geek going. Free Geek’s Web site posts a varied wish list of items to donate.

Once full of cupcakes, we visited the “white” room. Items declared desirable enough, get stored here awaiting sale on Those items of which the organization has a surplus, get sold in the attached thrift store. The thrift store hosts a variety of used mice, cables and printers all tested and offered at agreeable low prices. Free Geek utilizes every method possible to put back into circulation items which could have ended up in the landfill.

As a note to the success of this program, the five individuals who took part in my tour signed up for the adoption program. For the father and teenage son in our tour, this seemed like a great way to give and partake in the recycling and the reusing of the completed equipment. Even better for us, Free Geek provides us with a safer alternative for removing outdated hard drives from our homes.

For more information on how you can utilize Free Geek access their Web site at:

Free Geek 1731 SE 10th Ave. Portland, OR 97214 (503) 232-9350 Operates Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00am to 7:00pm.