DOVER — For months, kindergarten student Miguel García has been sharing an old laptop with his two older brothers.
At the start of the new school year, his mother Francisca García, 45, made Miguel a promise: I’ll get you your own computer.
But with the family’s budget still slammed by the coronavirus pandemic, García couldn’t do it on her own.
This week, she got some help.
Miguel, 5, received one of 25 refurbished computers donated to the neediest students at Dover Elementary School by the Sheriff’s Hispanic Advisory Council. All told, the council that provides counsel to Sheriff Chad Chronister came up with $6,000 worth of equipment for Dover Elementary students.
“We are very happy with this help,” said Garcia, who will keep Miguel home through January out of concern about coronavirus in schools. “We don’t have too many chances to buy a computer or even a tablet now.”
About half of the COVID-19 cases reported nationwide include data on ethnicity, 1.06 million of them. Hispanics make up more than a third of these cases — nearly twice their share of the population as a whole.
Children are less likely to have severe symptoms when infected, but Garcia remains cautious and sees distance-learning as the future of education.
“Having a good computer at home is a must,” she said, “and this is a good one for my son.”
The computers were refurbished by eSmart Recycling, a self-described “social enterprise” in Tampa whose mission statement is, “To recycle old technology from individuals and companies and use the proceeds to fund tech labs for kids without access to computers worldwide.”
Said owner Tony Selvaggio, 33, “Recycling electronic equipment is not just fashionable, it’s a necessity.”
Selvaggio arrived in the United States in 2011. He worked a few years with a nationwide recycling business then decided to open his own company in 2014.
Recycling computers is hard and often inconvenient, he said. He and his five companies aim to make it easy, starting by making sure any private information has been erased. Then they install a new hard drive and the latest Windows operating system.
In 2015, Selvaggio won $10,000 in a competition sponsored by the Hillsborough County Department of Economic Development that attracted dozens of entrepreneurs. The money helped Selvaggio place recycling bins in select schools and open computer workshops at Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Casa Chiapas in Tampa, and the DreamCenter in Ybor City.
So far, working with more than 50 nonprofit groups, the company has distributed nearly 2,000 devices locally and around the world.
In October 2019, Selvaggio traveled to Lima, Peru, to deliver 25 refurbished computers to the poor neighborhood of Ventanilla.
The experience energized him. He planned a return last June with more computers and to set up a technology lab, but the coronavirus put a stop to travel between the countries.
“It is important to educate people,” Selvaggio said, “about how bad it can be for our environment to dispose of computers, cell phones or batteries in the trash without proper handling.”
Distributing the computers to Dover Elementary students is one way to teach the lesson.
It’s sinking in with 10-year-old fifth-grader Adriana Juarez: “It’s the best thing that has happened to me in a long time.”