For five years, Redondo Beach's David Lombard has kept busy offering free in-home tech help for seniors and refurbishing donated laptops for those who lack computer access.
But now, Lombard has a specific focus: The Laptop Elf Project.
His goal is to supply an entire Redondo Beach elementary classroom with laptops. He's donated 11 so far and has 19 to go. The class needs 30 laptops, one for each of the 28 desks and two spares.
"I don't know how long it'll take, but that's where I'm going to focus all of my donation efforts until we get the need satisfied," said Lombard who responded to a teacher's post on Nextdoor asking for a set of Google Chromebooks.
Lombard didn't have those, but he had an alternative: tools he could use to wipe the hard drives and reinstall operating systems. He converts older Windows XP and Vista laptops to the Linux operating system with a Chromium browser.
And, the former aerospace and civil engineer said, that works pretty much just as a Chromebook would.
Since he began working with public educators in 2014, Lombard has donated more than 150 laptops, desktops and tablets to classrooms. He loads on the free Linux operating system so that teachers and students can access the programs they need without paying for Windows, Lombard said.
"I like to give laptops to teachers (because) those laptops are really going to be used," Lombard said. "With all the different kids coming through the classroom year after year, a lot of kids are going to be able to put hands on those laptops and make good use out of them," he added.
Life as the Laptop Elf for Lombard grew out of his volunteer work at the Hermosa Five-O senior activity center. He noticed in 2013 the center had a couple of unused computers. The staff who taught computer skills had left, so Lombard started offering free lessons himself.
"It was hard to teach on those computers because they were different than the ones people had at home," Lombard said.
So, he started to tutor the seniors for free in their own homes. He got their printers working, fixed their WiFi connections and removed malware, he said.
Now he's assembled a team of four to help those 50 and older with in-home computer use all over the South Bay, as far as Gardena and Westchester, Lombard said.
That gives him more time to focus on collecting, repairing and donating computers.
One of Lombard's first computer donations was to a high school senior living in a battered women and children's shelter in San Pedro. The recipient was tech-savvy but did not have his own computer. Having one "is key to getting things done today—I don't know how you do without it," Lombard said.
Social media has been good for the project, Lombard said. Nextdoor and Facebook have been good sources of donated laptops, he added. He previously called for old computers just by word-of-mouth, Lombard said.
Eleni Marie Maureas, a 6th through 8th grade music and film making teacher at Wright middle school STEAM Magnet in Westchester, said she's received six iMac desktops from the Laptop Elf since February.
"All we had were the one-to-one iPads for kids, but they didn't allow me to teach all the lessons and techniques I wanted," Maureas said.
When LAUSD declined to repair or replace her broken laptop, Maureas received a Macbook Pro from Lombard. And she's spreading the word to her colleagues, she said, as their company computers break.
Anna Baker, a K-5 special education teacher at Dolores Elementary School in Carson, has received about 20 laptops within two years from Lombard.
She said students who do not have a computer at school that they can take home miss out on learning valuable life skills.
"These kids are at a huge disadvantage not having computers available to them," said Baker. "The disparity is enormous between L.A. Unified (where I work) and Redondo Beach Unified where my kids go."
In addition to teachers, Lombard also gives laptops to nonprofits who work with people experiencing homelessness or transitioning out of it. They can use the computers for resume writing and job hunting.
But the need for laptops in classrooms is ongoing, said Lombard, who added he's accepting iPads and Kindles.
In January, the Laptop Elf said he'll ask real estate companies to donate their old devices.
The elf works all year just like the teachers do, Lombard said.
Contact David Lombard at email@example.com to donate used Windows and Mac laptops, as well as iPads, Kindles and tablets.