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Before COVID-19, nearly 27 million Americans, disproportionately Black and Brown, lacked access to the Internet. This number has soared in tandem with job losses stemming from the pandemic and the consequent economic recession. The “new normal” mandates increased work and schooling from home, presenting enormous challenges for those without digital resources, computers, and broadband connections.
As COVID-19 spread in early spring 2020, quarantine measures forced LWB US’ Wash and Learn Initiative (WALI) resources and in-person programming to shut down temporarily. Facing these new constraints, in April 2020, LWB US pivoted towards providing ConnectED Technology Kits to families previously engaged with the WALI laundromats who lacked access to at-home internet and digital devices.
As of 2020, 40 percent of Baltimore households were without broadband access. COVID-19 exacerbates the challenges of these households on the wrong side of the digital divide. The ConnectED Technology Kit program in Baltimore City serves residents, mostly people of color, who remain without computers or internet access.
Distribution of these kits is need-based and focuses on residents who live near or around Baltimore Wash and Learn Initiative (WALI) laundromats as well as at-risk youth who fall outside the scope of Baltimore City Public Schools. The majority of COVID-19 response activities are centered around LWB US’ Wash and Learn Initiative (WALI) laundromats in the following neighborhoods and zip codes in Baltimore: Central Park Heights (21215), Mount Clare (21213), Irvington (21229), and Highlandtown (21224), all predominantly Black communities with a per capita annual income below $25,000.
COVID-19 has also deepened the existing digital divide in San Antonio. With the support of Goodwill’s Technology Access Program (TAP), LWB US is able to provide refurbished laptops and webcams in our ConnectED kits to San Antonio residents. We have also partnered with Mobile Beacon to include hotspots in the kits for families and individuals who do not have at-home access to the internet. With the Ruth Mini Mobile Library, we are able to include books in each kit. Google Fiber and the San Antonio Area Foundation sponsor our hardware needs.
In March 2020, LWB US began to distribute ConnectED Tech Kits to low and moderate income residents in Bexar County. The program provides kits to residents in the 78228 and 78251 zip codes who lack computers and at-home internet access. The kits are distributed at our WALI laundromat sites, food banks, and community associations throughout San Antonio.
In September 2020, LWB US began to distribute its ConnectED Tech Kits to the community in Loíza. In this municipality, over 35% of households do not have access to the internet nor do they have access to an at-home computing device. LWB US is distributing kits to ensure that students in Loíza — long considered a “forgotten corner” of the island — are able to successfully learn virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.
LWB US partnered with Link Puerto Rico, a local nonprofit organization that educates, empowers, and supports communities in STEM through education and co-creation, for their technical expertise and assistance with logistical arrangements. LWB US is also working with Camera Mundi, a local provider of refurbished computers, in order to provide low-cost, high-quality equipment to ConnectED Kit recipients.