Booting up change for Albertans in need

How retired computers can help refugees, wildfire victims and low-income families

They enter the world with a mandate of servitude. They’re given numbers instead of names, commands instead of requests, and are afforded sleep only when their owners are away. Then, after about five years of dedicated toil, they’re retired to make room for younger, faster replacements.

The life of a computer isn’t easy. But at AMA, our machines enjoy a beautiful afterlife thanks to an evergreening program that sees every retired desktop, laptop and printer donated to Albertans in need.

“We make sure that everything that leaves AMA can be repurposed,” says Cindy Campbell, Manager of Desktop Support for AMA. “We’re always thinking about the environment and seeing how we can reuse equipment that would otherwise end up in a landfill.”

Every five years, 300 to 400 retired AMA machines are meticulously wiped clean by our IT team and donated to Alberta Computers for Schools (ACFS), a not-for-profit organization that redistributes roughly 14,000 refurbished computers a year. With help from the government, equipment donated to ACFS finds a new home in provincial schools, libraries and charitable organizations.

ACFS also supports indigenous communities, new Canadians, low-income parents and others across the province who demonstrate need. Last year, for example, recipients of refurbished computers included Fort McMurray wildfire victims and nearly 1,000 Syrian refugee families.

“We love knowing that our computers are being recycled within our community,” says Campbell. “And anything that can’t go to Computers for Schools goes to the Eco Station to be parted out and have the materials reused.”

ACFS has facilities in Edmonton, Calgary and Brocket, which is the main community on the Piikani Nation reserve. The warehouses – staffed mainly by volunteers and students in work-experience programs – are packed sky-high with hard drives, keyboards, monitors and other computer equipment marked for ACFS’s stringent security wiping process (this in addition to AMA’s own comprehensive security safeguards).

But demand far exceeds the supply, says Edmonton’s ACFS Supervisor Sherwin Custodio. That’s why they’re always seeking donations – whether large corporate ones, such as those from AMA, or smaller individual ones from Albertans retiring personal equipment.

Custodio says the most desired machines are those less than five years old. These are ideally laptops, laser printers, desktops with a minimum 160 GB hard drive, USB keyboards, optical mice, and 19-inch monitors. But the ACFS won’t turn anything away if there’s even the slightest hope of finding it a new home.

“These computers are out of warranty, so if it weren’t for us, they’d probably be crushed or parted out,” says Custodio. “We try to save them and give them a useful second life.”

For more information, or to find out how to donate, visit

I’m a former journalist, current AMA communications specialist, and future backup dancer for Beyonce. I’m passionate about helping members, riding motorcycles and eliminating all traces of cilantro from food.