Willmar, Minn., nonprofit to give away computers to low-income families

WILLMAR -- KandiComp of Willmar doesn't plan to get rich working with PCs for People, a nonprofit that provides free refurbished computers to low-income families.While the company is a for-profit business, its partnership with the nonprofit PCs f...

Giving a little bit back
Robert Stiff talks about his company, PCs for People, which operates in partnership with KandiComp in Willmar, and refurbishes donated computers and gives them to low-income people. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR - KandiComp of Willmar doesn’t plan to get rich working with PCs for People, a nonprofit that provides free refurbished computers to low-income families.
While the company is a for-profit business, its partnership with the nonprofit PCs for People is an important aspect of their effort, said Roy Stiff, KandiComp owner and a former United Methodist pastor.
When he and his wife Beth started KandiComp nine years ago, he knew he didn’t want to be just a business man.
“We built this to be a ministry extension, to help people receive computer technology at a price they can afford,” he said.
About 100 local low-income families are looking forward to receiving computers at a giveaway from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Feb. 1 in Willmar. Families chosen for the computers will be contacted this month.
PCs for People, which operates in partnership with KandiComp in downtown Willmar, refurbishes donated computers and gives them to low-income people. Some basic computer training is also part of the deal.
KandiComp is the first for-profit business to partner with the nonprofit, which also has offices in St. Paul, Mankato, Staples and Grand Rapids. It has been around since 1998.
The nonprofit seemed to be a natural partnership with KandiComp, said Robert Stiff, Roy’s son and the owner of PCs for People of Willmar. Both men are experienced in working with computer hardware and software.
Computers for the effort are donated by schools, hospitals, libraries, government offices and individuals, Robert Stiff said.
To prepare them, the hard drives are erased, and a new copy of Windows 7 is installed, he said. If needed, the computer’s memory is upgraded.
Old computers now line shelves in the KandiComp basement, waiting to be refurbished and given away.
PCs for People is a licensed Microsoft refurbisher and is able to obtain the company’s Windows software inexpensively, Robert Stiff said. The nonprofit has developed methods that make it simple enough for volunteers to help with the process, he added.
It costs about $30 to refurbish a computer, with the money coming from grants or donations. “What we don’t get through grant money or donations, we pay for out of pocket,” Roy Stiff said.
“We’re not breaking even, but we believe in PCs for People firmly enough,” he added. “We can’t afford it, but in a bigger way, we can’t afford not to do it.”
Donations of computers and money and the work of volunteers are always welcome, he said.
Taking home a computer can be a life-changing event for a family, he said. “Kids have homework machines now,” and families are able to be in touch with relatives in other states or other countries.
The Stiffs said the nonprofit has given away about 140 computers over the past year to people from around the state, not just in Willmar.
Many of the computers will come from the KandiComp basement, which now has dozens of old computers lined up on shelves, ready to be refurbished and given away. PCs for People’s mobile refurbishing unit will also be coming out from the Twin Cities.
About three-quarters of the families receiving computers through the program have never had one before, so they need the instruction they receive when they pick up their new computers.
“I won’t let them leave until they’re comfortable with it,” Robert Stiff said.
KandiComp started on the dining room of their home and for a time operated out of the basement of the family home in Willmar, Roy said, but “the business outstripped the house” and needed to expand. It opened in its location in downtown Willmar about two years ago.
“We love downtown,” Roy said. “It was a wonderful decision; we’re always busy.”
KandiComp sells custom built computers and provides service for them. It also provides networking services for organizations with up to 25 computers. Roy Stiff said the goal was to find a market niche serving households, nonprofits and small businesses.
At its downtown location, KandiComp also provides free secure wireless internet access and a computer for public use. A high-tech conference room/learning center that can be outfitted with laptops is available for rent.
Much of the business’s work is helping people who have had a “disaster,” Roy Stiff said. That can include damage caused by viruses, or a knocked over cup of coffee. “We teach them how not to have it happen again,” he added.
KandiComp also works with Family Promise of Kandiyohi County, Goodwill Easter Seals, Adult Basic Education and other local agencies to provide computer equipment, support or training.
To receive a computer from PCs for People a potential recipient must earn below 150% of poverty level, have a family member with a disability or work with a social worker.
For more information about donating a computer to PCs for People or volunteering with the organization, call KandiComp at 235-2701 and ask for Robert. Monetary donations may be mailed to PCs for People at 412 Litchfield Ave. S.W., Willmar MN 56201.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
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