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Volunteers salvage old computer hardware at a Free Geek location in Portland, OR.

Missoula Organization to Offer Free Computers

“The idea here is to bridge the digital divide,” says a zealous Cole Moeller, “to provide free access to all.” He’s been talking so much he’s completely ignored the veggie burger and fries sitting cold on his plate. “It will be a resource for and an integral part of the Missoula community.”

Cole is describing Free Geek Missoula, a free computer adoption and recycling organization coming to town.

“And it’s a way to advance the cause of non-profits and other social change groups,” he says.

Free Geek Missoula will be an all-volunteer organization with the mission of reducing the number of computers headed to landfills, while offering free computers to individuals and non-profits. It will be committed to free computer training for the community, too, and promoting free and easy to use open source software.

The idea of Free Geek itself isn’t new; there’s one in Portland, the original, and others in Olympia, Chicago, Columbus, Ohio and elsewhere, though they’re all only loosely affiliated.

Here’s how it works (if it sounds familiar to you, Missoulians, it is – it’s a lot like Free Cycles): Free Geek Missoula will take in computers from individuals and businesses, mix and match the “choicest bits and pieces,” and then build custom computers to be sent back out into the community. Whatever isn’t reused will be recycled. These computers will run on a free and open-source software system fully adaptable to its users’ needs.

The catch? Well, there really isn’t one if you’re a non-profit: the highest-end computers will be given to you, and maybe you can donate some of your old stuff in return. For individuals there’s a small catch: you’ll have to volunteer a bit, processing old equipment for recycling, but then you’re eligible for a free computer. Sounds like a pretty good deal.

But before this thing can get off the ground, Free Geek Missoula needs a home. The organization is looking for donated space where it can set up shop. It could also use volunteers, “reasonably modern” computer equipment, and grant writers.

As an all-volunteer organization relying on donations, “it’s important that the community takes ownership of the program,” Cole says, and then he finally digs into his meal.

As the first order of business, Free Geek Missoula hopes to soon have computer kiosks set up around town along with wireless hotspots. The kiosks will provide private, free, and secure internet access to all. “It’s for the person who wants to apply for jobs online but doesn’t have a computer or internet access,” Cole says. Be on the look-out for kiosks at Free Cycles and at a coffee shop or two around town.

You can visit Free Geek Missoula’s webpage at www.freegeekmissoula.com (a dot-org is on the way). If you have questions about the organization, or if you might be able to help get it up and running, contact Cole Moeller at cole@freegeekmissoula.com.

About Matthew Frank

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6 comments

  1. Nick Domitrovich

    I’ve got so much hardware that I’d love to donate to these guys. I go through a lot of computer equipment and have been saving everything for the last three years or so in case something like this came along. It’d be nice to be able to use my closet full of CRT monitors, etc…

  2. This project couldn’t be cooler. Thanks for reporting on this.

  3. This is such a great idea! Terrific article too.

  4. Nick Domitrovich

    I recently bought a Dell XPS 700 online and checked the recycling option, yet when my computer arrived there were absolutely no instructions as to how I was supposed to recycle my old stuff.

    On the other hand, I’d rather donate it to an organization like Free Geek because all of the hardware is still relatively recent and in good working order. I guess it’s a matter of it just being out of your hands or if you care about what Free Geek states as their mission. Having recently coordinated a large-scale online project in Montana, I can say unequivocally that there is a gigantic, gaping “digital divide” throughout segments of our population.

  5. when my computer arrived there were absolutely no instructions as to how I was supposed to recycle my old stuff.
    A friend of mine just bought a Dell laptop, replacing a 5 yr old one. She talked with Dell about her old one and got told they didn’t take anything past 4 yrs old! I worked on it a bit and found it a new home.

    I sure wish you weren’t doing this program clear across the state from me!! I would love to help but 600 miles is just a tad far. If you guys spread to Billings or better yet, Miles City, let me know….that’s in my neck of the prairies. 😉

    Best wishes in your new venture, I’m sure it will take off and keep you busy!
    Laura in Ekalaka, MT

  6. Hey there, MslaGuy!

    Thanks for taking the time to contact us – Based on the dates of your emails, I did indeed receive both, but got a bounceback both times I tried to reply – I’ll try again to send one out, and hopefully we’ll have better luck this time…!