The testimonials from financially-strapped college students who have received a free laptop after the coronavirus forced classes to move online say it all.

“It will really help me finish out the semester and the rest of my academic goals. I really appreciate it. Thank you,” said Palomar College student Tamara Johnson.

“I’ll never forget what you are doing for struggling students during this unprecedented time. Thank you for all that you do,” said fellow Palomar College student Alex Belinsky.

“Having a laptop is so essential for me to successfully complete any type of online class,” said MiraCosta College student Erika Monterroso. “This online environment was definitely something I was not prepared for and since I have a very outdated old laptop it made it so hard for me to stay excited about school. Now I am thrilled.”

Thanks to a $500,000 grant from the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund to the five community college districts in the region, an additional 1,400 students who have been without a computer during the transition to online education will be receiving a free laptop in the coming weeks. Each college district is determining which students will be eligible.

Colleges had previously tapped their own limited funding to distribute laptops to students struggling to support themselves and their families, but more help was clearly needed. More than half of California community college students have trouble affording balanced meals or worry about running out of food. Nearly 1 in 5 are either homeless or do not have a stable place to live, and many have found it difficult to keep up with the transition to online classes because they lacked a reliable computer.

The stakes couldn’t be higher.

California’s community colleges are the leading provider of workforce training and higher education in the country and the San Diego Community College District alone, the second largest in the state, contributes $4.3 billion annually to the local economy.

“The COVID-19 crisis has forced all of the community colleges in San Diego County to convert their classes to an online format. At the same time, many community college students lack the resources to make the transition to online education,” said San Diego Community College District Chancellor Constance M. Carroll. “We are grateful to The San Diego Foundation for its contribution that will add to our countywide effort to provide laptops and internet connectivity so that students can continue their education without falling onto the wrong side of the digital divide.”

The $500,000 grant illustrates how community foundations are at the forefront of helping those in need during the COVID-19 crisis, rallying to mobilize more than a half-billion dollars. The San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund – which has granted $7 million to San Diego nonprofits and educational institutions impacted by the coronavirus outbreak – is hosted and administered by The San Diego Foundation in collaboration with county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, the co-chair of the County’s COVID-19 subcommittee, and additional partners across the region. Emergency grants are made possible thanks to thousands of donations from donor-advised funds, businesses and individuals.

The grant funding laptops was among the largest to date.

“All students, regardless of economic status, need access to a computer and internet to improve their educational opportunities and ultimately, their futures,” expressed Mark Stuart, President & CEO of The San Diego Foundation. “With the current crisis now requiring students to learn at home, it’s more important than ever that we provide technology resources to children and young adults who will struggle to continue their education without these vital tools.”

Ismael Ramos, a MiraCosta College student who received a free laptop at a previous computer distribution in Oceanside, is indicative of the impact the latest gift will have.

“This laptop will benefit my future and my academic career,” he said. “I will use this laptop for all my online homework and in the incoming semesters, and plan to take this with me to the four-year institution I plan to go to.”

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