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Free Geek: computer recycling, training, and thrift in one location

With the recent move, we had an opportunity to dispose of some dated machinery, and in the process found out about FreeGeek Chicago. FreeGeek is a non-profit occupying a unique niche in a few American and Canadian cities, serving as a computer recycling center, a technical training center, and a source of free computers to the community.

The premise is simple, but clever: the facility takes donations of old computers. The computers are disassembled and their components tested by a team of volunteers. Broken components are shipped off to a recycling facility in Lombard, IL, and functional ones are put together to make fully working computers.

Volunteers give 24 hours of service, during which they are trained in taking apart, testing, and building computers. At the end of their hours, they are given a computer built from donations, running Xubuntu.

The service educates, recycles, finds a use for older machines, and successfully operates with limited budget all at once. Volunteers get training, get a computer, and help keep the program going. And that's what makes this business so clever: that both their resources and their labor are so broadly purposeful, directly benefiting environment, volunteer, and business at once.

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