COLUMBIA – The Voluntary Action Center (VAC) and the Downtown Optimist Club teamed up to hold the “Homes for Computers” distribution event Saturday.

The VAC provides basic needs services to community members who need help accessing resources like food, hygiene products and prescriptions. The Optimist Club is an organization focused on benefiting children and their development.

VAC Program Coordinator Olivia Little said collaborating on ideas is very important to the process.

“We all work together for the planning process on how we’re going to make this work and get these computers to people,” Little said.

The event provides used computers to eligible community members within Boone County. Those interested were required to fill out an application beforehand in order to be selected to receive a computer. 

The computers were donated by the City of Columbia. Monitors and other equipment were donated by Boyce and Bynum, Columbia Insurance Group and Boone County Government. 

“On their rotation, when they’re replacing computers and monitors through the city, they will hold those items back and donate them to this program every year,” Little said.

This year, computer recipients received handouts with information and tips about cybersecurity.

“Initially, the Sheriff’s Department came and made a program on internet safety, which was a very important part of this project,” Optimist Club Member Rick McKernan said. “If we’re giving away computers, we want the families to be safe with their kids.”

“Homes for Computers” has been an annual event since 2003. But Little explained how important the event is this year.

The event was held at the Downtown Optimist Club Building but the distribution was a drive-through event this year. Many aspects of society have shifted online due to the pandemic, and access to the internet at home has become a necessity for most people.

“This program allows for so many people who could not otherwise afford to do so to do their schoolwork at home, to apply for jobs at home, to order grocery pickup,” Little said. “All kinds of things that a lot of us take for granted.”

Both Little and McKernan believe the event has a positive impact on those who receive computers.

“Some of these people are refugees from other countries," McKernan said. "And in their own country, they don’t have the type of civic support that we have here in the United States."

The VAC received 65 applications for computers this year, and chose 50 recipients to schedule a pickup time for the 50 available computers. Little says a future goal for the event organizers is to increase the amount of computer donations. 

Both organizations are looking forward to holding “Homes for Computers” in-person again in the future. Little said it will give computer recipients more education and resources about computer use. 

“Having that in-person connection with clients is really important,” she said. 

For now, the event organizers are still grateful to continue their community impact.

“People really appreciate the help that we can offer and that the community can offer through events like these,” Little said.