WASHINGTON (WDVM) — Non-profit Serve Your City and Ward 6 Mutual Aid is handing out backpacks filled with a laptop or tablet, an internet hotspot, hand sanitizer, and other supplies to low-income kids living in Washington, D.C.
Of the over 32,000 families surveyed by DC Public Schools this summer, 60 percent said they needed a digital device for student online learning and 20 percent needed reliable internet access. Serve Your City believes that’s an undercount, especially because the survey was distributed by email. The DC public school year began virtually on Monday and will continue online until November 6 at the earliest.
Serve Your City created its Keep Us Safe campaign in March when schools went virtual. “We knew Black and brown students needed support. With the program we had pre-COVID, we ran into problems all the time with students who didn’t have access to this at home,” said Serve Your City Executive Director Maurice Cook. In March, Ward 6 Mutual Aid created a refurbishing team and fixed up about 100 used laptops and tablets. So far, they’ve given out 86 of the 200 backpacks they’ve filled.
“There’s been a gap in so many government services,” Cook said. Serve Your City just received a pallet of 90 bottles of hand sanitizer. They’re also handing out cleaning supplies and masks and hundreds of meals a week. They’re providing tutoring and social and emotional programs online. “The community has to be the solution because the city government could’ve done this 20 years ago. That’s not their priority. Of course we’ll work with city officials, but even if they were able to quickly do a one-on-one match, that doesn’t mean people have the computer literacy, the bandwidth, the capacity, to facilitate the educational attainment for their children. And that touches all classes of people,” he said.
Without Serve Your City’s programs, Cook says DC students would have to wait for support from the school system. “We’re not just giving out backpacks,” he added. “Along with a backpack comes a tech support system and an opportunity to engage in our online curriculum.”
“I would’ve been one of those poor Black kids depending upon love of others to be able to have the things that I deserve,” Cook said. “I’m still that kid. No kid deserves to go without. And if it exists in the world, then it exists for everyone.”
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