Click on the links below to see a list of frequently asked questions.
Who can volunteer? Do I need to know about computers?
Anyone who wants to volunteer time at Free Geek and can make it to our facility is welcome. No computer experience is required. Our facility is mostly accessible, and we welcome people with different abilities. People under 16 years old must be accompanied by an adult who will work alongside him/her.
Is this where you can get a free computer?
Yes, in order to learn more about how to get a free computer as a volunteer, please come by and take a tour (11 AM and 4 pm, Tuesday through Saturday) so we can answer any questions and get you signed up for the program. Not-for-profit organizations may get free computers through our Hardware Grants program.
What kind of computer is it? Can I play games?
It’s a FreekBox, built from used equipment that has been donated to the recycling center and running the Xubuntu Linux operating system and other Free and Open Source Software. FreekBoxes come loaded with a bunch of software, which you can read more about here.
The short answer for playing games is “it depends on the game” but if a person has the patience and some degree of computer expertise, there are ways to play certain Windows-specific games on a FreekBox (i.e. World of Warcraft). Also, there are about twenty games which come pre-installed on your FreekBox, and web-based games work well under Xubuntu.
Can I get a Laptop or Mac?
While we are not able to give these items away through any of our volunteer programs, we have these items for sale in the Thrift Store.
Do I get to build my own computer?
If you don’t need a computer right away and are interested in learning how to build computers, you may want to join the Build Program. Otherwise, it is and faster for you to go through the Adoption Program. The computers are all built to the same specifications, so you’re not missing out, equipment-wise.
How do I sign up?
There are volunteer orientation tours everyday we are open (Tuesday through Saturday) at 11 AM and 4 pm. No appointment is necessary, just show up a few minutes before the tour and check in at the reception desk. The tour takes 30-40 minutes and will show you how our different programs work. At the end of the tour you will have an opportunity to sign-up for one of our programs and schedule your first volunteer shift.
What do volunteers do at Free Geek?
- Volunteers in the Adoption Program perform the following tasks:
- Receiving: helping donors unload, sorting through boxes of stuff, dispersing donated stuff throughout the building
- Recycling: disassembling computers, printers, and other electronics bound for raw material recycling
- Other: Cleaning, audio-visual testing, component testing
- In the Build Program, we’ll teach you how to build computers. If you agree to complete six computers, we will teach you the process, including hardware identification, system evaluation, troubleshooting, and assembly. You can keep the sixth computer you complete for your own personal use.
I don’t have time to volunteer. Can I just buy a computer?
Sure! The Thrift Store has a wide variety of reasonably-priced and environmentally responsible computers for purchase.
Can we put our hours together in order to earn our computer faster?
Yes, you may combine your hours, but it’s important for the person/people to take the FreekBox Adoption class. Please keep in mind that it’s one computer per person, so if you have three people adding their hours together, they may earn up to three computers.
I notice that you guys keep upgrading the specs of your FreekBoxen. Can I trade mine in for a newer one?
Not exactly. Our policy is that a Free Geek volunteer may earn one FreekBox per person per year, either in exchange for 24 hours of service in the Adoption Program, or as their 6th computer in the Build Program.
Does Free Geek accommodate handicapped volunteers?
Our facility is mostly handicapped-accessible, and we are sensitive to and can work with people with different abilities.
How about volunteers who don’t speak English?
While there are some folks on staff who speak other languages, they are not always around to translate. Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources yet to accommodate non-English and non-Spanish speakers (or people who have significant difficulty understanding or speaking English or Spanish) without translators. Volunteers who speak other languages are welcome, though, if they can bring a translator with them when they volunteer and when they take the class or call for tech support.
Can I earn another computer for my neighbor/mother/cult leader/top-secret laboratory?
Sure, a year after the last one you earned. We only give out one computer a year to each volunteer.
Can kids volunteer?
Kids can earn a computer from Free Geek just like anyone else – it’s just that they have to have an adult with them while volunteering if they are under 16.
Do I get a printer with the FreekBox?
Unfortunately, we can’t refurbish enough good, working printers to be able to give one away with each FreekBox. However, if you’re a current volunteer, you may buy a printer from our Thrift Store at a 20% discount.
I’ve never used Linux before and I hear it’s hard to use.
While this is a common misconception many of our volunteers tell us that Linux is very easy to use, and that they often prefer it over Windows or other operating systems. Free Geek offers classes on how to use and personalize the computer you earn to our volunteers and the public. Additionally, as an incentive to keep using Linux, Free Geek offers a year of free tech support for all volunteers who keep Linux on their Freekboxes and take the adoption class. More information about our classes can be found on our classes page.
I live in Eastern Oregon/Missouri/Liberia, and I can’t come in to earn a computer. How can I get one?
The bad news: we’re not there (yet.) The good news: we DO have affiliates in numerous other places. Check our website for other locations. If there’s no Free Geek in your area, try using http://www.google.com/ and searching for the name of your town and “free computer”. You also might want to search for “Linux Users Group” as many Linux users like to help people set stuff up cheaply.
What do you take?
We take all kinds of computer and computer-related equipment, working or not. This includes printers, scanners and gaming devices. We also accept other consumer electronics, such as fax machines, telephones, audio and video equipment.
For more about what we take, visit our Donate page.
Do you want the software and documentation that came with this stuff?
Not really, since we install Free Software on the computers we give away, the proprietary software isn’t all that useful. You can recycle the paper with your curbside recycling. We will take the old software disks and and old floppy disks and recycle them.
Exceptions: Old video game software (original boxes are sweet!).
What don’t you take?
We do not accept:
- smoke detectors
- fluorescent light bulbs
Well, where do I send that stuff?
Metro (http://www.metro-region.org/ or 503-797-1700) would know where you can recycle or dispose of other materials. Smoke detectors can usually be sent back to the manufacturer (they frequently contain small amounts of radioactive material). There are also a couple of places locally that will take photocopiers and large printers: Google, Metro, or the Yellow Pages can be great resources in this case. Batteries can generally go to Battery Exchange.
What do you do with the stuff that gets donated?
Free Geek strives to reuse as much as possible. Computer equipment that we can reuse is given to those in our Adoption and Build Programs, local not-for-profits through our Hardware Grants Program, or sold in our Thrift Store. We reuse ~25% of our systems, monitors, and printers this way.
Computers and other electronics that are deemed obsolete or broken are disassembled and separated into their basic components. Free Geek then finds a local industrial recycler to process the materials. Free Geek chooses recyclers that we’re sure process our materials in an environmentally responsible way. To learn more about how we recycle visit this page.
What do you do with hard drives? Is the data on my hard drive safe with Free Geek?
At Free Geek we take the utmost care to ensure complete data destruction of all user data that is donated to us. Hard drives that meet our specifications for reuse are removed from their systems and wiped in our hard drive sanitation banks. The process we use complies to DOD (Department of Defense) 5220-22.M standards for data destruction. Every sector of the hard drive is overwritten 3 times using a destructive write which ensures that ALL data on the drive is completely destroyed and totally unrecoverable. Hard drives that are below our specifications for reuse are physically destroyed on site.
Magnetic media such as floppy disks and backup tapes are disassembled in our recycling area and the plastic components are shredded by our plastics recycling vendor. Optical media such as cd-rw discs are physically destroyed as soon as we receive them.
What’s with the prices for the donating other stuff? I’m donating it to you, isn’t that enough?
Those numbers are suggested donations you can make along with your donation of equipment in order to show support for our community-benefiting programs and to help us pay rent, utilities, salaries, etc. They are not required, but are certainly appreciated.
Can I buy other stuff?
Why, yes you can. Our Thrift Store has computers, monitors, printers, networking equipment, stereos and more. We also stock all the computer parts you’ll need to work on your computers — or build one from scratch!
Can I buy X other item?
Everything that’s for sale at Free Geek is located in our Thrift Store, so you’ll have to ask there. Please do not ask us to search for a specific gizmo, as we cannot accommodate such requests. If your gizmo is available for sale, you will only find it in the Thrift Store.
But what about that cool gizmo I saw in your receiving area? No one else wants it — can I buy it?
If we opened up our sales policy to include everything at Free Geek, volunteers, donors, store customers, and staff would rifle through everything at Free Geek constantly! And we need to stay on-task so we can save the world from a deluge of techno-detritus.
For this reason, we limit our sales area to the Thrift Store. It is not ok to pick up an item from the non-store section of Free Geek and carry it over to the store. The stock in the store is variable, as it depends on our donation stream, so we can’t guarantee that we have any given thing (though some are more consistently stocked than others).
Can I trade my computer/VCR/stereo for some other gizmo?
Sorry, but there is no trading of equipment or hardware. The only trade we deal in is 24 hours of volunteer time in exchange for a computer (in our Adoption Program). If you’re looking for something other than a computer, you should check out the low, low prices in our Thrift Store.
How long has Free Geek been around, and how did it start?
Free Geek got its start as a good idea that was presented at a booth at the Earth Day festivities in 2000. In September, 2000, the facility on 10th Ave was opened as a recycling and re-use dropoff. It’s all been a process of evolution springing from the original good idea: using a community service model, get “obsolete”, but still usable, systems diverted from the landfill and into the hands of people who need them.
Hours, address, and bus lines
Hours: 10 am – 6 pm Tuesday through Saturday. Address: 1731 SE 10th Ave, between Market and Mill; that’s two blocks south of Hawthorne and near the 10, 14, 4, 6 and 70 buses. Our phone number is (503)232-9350, though we only answer during business hours.
But really, if you want more complete info, with links, a map, and more, check out our Directions page.
How can I get a computer (or other hardware) for my church/non-profit/revolutionary sewing circle?
Through our Hardware Grants Program. Free Geek donates many computers and peripherals to local non-profits and community organizations. Please visit this link for more info. Please note that we do not grant hardware to individuals.
I can’t volunteer my time but I’d like to help Free Geek – what can I do?
Spread the word about Free Geek and Open Source Software. If you don’t live in the Portland Metro area, find out if there’s a nascent Free Geek in your area. We will always accept monetary donations – perhaps your employer will make a matching donation!
Are you hiring?
If we are hiring, it will be posted on our website here. Sorry, but we can’t accept unsolicited resumes.
How do you make your money?
We primarily earn money from cash donations, recycling income, and sales in the Thrift Store. Unlike most non-profits, Free Geek is financially self-sufficient and only seeks out grant money for extra projects.
Can we get someone to make a presentation on Free Geek at our fair/organization?
It’s certainly possible! Let us know about the event (time, date, how many people, what the audience is interested in, your contact info) on this page.
Do you have Linux classes?
We have classes that are open to the public that teach people how to interact with the version of Linux we put on our systems. You can also get started on the technical end of learning Linux via the Build Program, where you’ll learn basic command line and a bit about how the operating system interacts with the hardware. Our list of available classes is constantly changing. You can find a current listing of our classes online and in printable PDF form.