Ruth’s gives unwanted tech gear new life in classrooms

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PORTLAND — There’s nothing quite like replacing an aging gadget or piece of technology with something shiny and new.

But what happens to the old, discarded computers and other technology that people and businesses no longer want? Where do unwanted monitors go?

More frequently, they are ending up in schools and classrooms all over the state.

Chris Slader, a teacher volunteer in the technology donation department at Ruth’s Reusable Resources, said the organization accepts computers and other devices that otherwise would be recycled by businesses. The equipment is then made available to schools.

“There’s still an appetite for these machines,” Slader said.

Ruth’s is a nonprofit organization that provides various supplies to schools across Maine. According to its website, Ruth’s has given away more than $56 million worth of surplus furniture, paper, books, office supplies and computers to schools and nonprofits since 1994.

Slader said he gets most of the tech donations from two large companies that wish to remain anonymous. But he said smaller companies also donate. Schools pay a small handling fee, such as $20 for a desktop computer, which Slader said goes toward operating costs for Ruth’s facility at 39 Blueberry Road.

Slader said Ruth’s has donated technology to at least 30 different schools in southern Maine. Anne Loughlin, an engineering teacher at Casco Bay High School, recently received several items from Ruth’s.

“I was kind of aware of (the technology department) for a while, but didn’t really pursue using any technology because what technology was available in my school was more or less adequate for my needs until recently,” Loughlin said.

Loughlin said eventually she needed computers for students to do digital fabrication work, where computers are used to design objects or mechanisms to be created on a 3-D printer.

“The computers are necessary because they design the part that the machine produces for you,” she said.

After initial conversations with Slander, and unsuccessful attempts for grants, Loughlin said she came back to Ruth’s to see what was available. During her first trip she came away with enough older Acer laptop computers for all the students in her classes. She said the laptops were sufficient for 2-D work, and were only $25 each. But they were not capable of the large-scale digital fabrication Loughlin wanted to do.

More recently, Loughlin said she was able to get 10 workstations that are sufficient enough to do the digital fabrication work, at a total cost of $500. She said students will be able to work in groups and rotate to use the machines.

“(The computers) are absolutely essential to my program,” she said.

All told, Loughlin said she now has 30 machines that cost a little bit more than what three machines would cost at market rate. All of the computers will be ready for the students to work on towards the middle of Janaury.

Slader, who teaches at Westbrook Elementary School, said at any time there are about 300 computers available at Ruth’s. He said there is no limit to the number of items schools can take from the technology department.

“When my inventory is low I’m feeling pretty good,” he said.

Slader has been volunteering at Ruth’s for 18 years, and said doing his part to build the program has been fun.

“I feel privileged because I get to ride the success of the center,” he said. “… I’m just a piece that fits very well.”

Loughlin called Ruth’s an “amazing resource.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Chris Slader volunteers in the technology donations section of Ruth’s Reusable Resources in Portland, where the devices donated go to schools across the state.

Ruth’s Reusable Resources in Portland receives technology donations from area companies, and then donates those devices to schools across the state.

Ruth’s Reusable Resources is at 39 Blueberry Road in Portland.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or