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Laid-off tech worker from Chino makes free desks for at-home students

For a student distance learning at home, having a desk for your computer and a place for storing textbooks and assignments can make a world of difference.

But desks are nearly sold out in stores and online sites, with the highest priced models remaining. Even if they could locate desks for sale, many Southern California families low on cash due to job losses from the coronavirus shutdowns cannot afford them.

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Giveaways took off

Chai Hansanuwat, 43, of Chino, recognized the problem and did something about it. He posted a notice on Instagram saying he would make basic wooden desks for free for students distance learning due to school closures by the pandemic. He started building five, then 10; by the end of August he was up to 18 desks.

A few weeks after a TV news story aired, he had reached 250 desk requests. As of the end of September, he had acquired requests for 921 desks and counting. And he’s running out of cash.

“I didn’t think it would become that big of a deal. I thought I would make four of five desks for people and I could because I had tons of scrap wood laying around,” said Hansanuwat on Wednesday, Sept. 30.

“We don’t request any payment for the desks,” he said. “We are talking about families that have three children at home and they just don’t have the money.”

But his charity project has overwhelmed him. To handle the load, he recruited 15 “builders” from Irvine, Highland, San Fernando, Fontana, Grand Terrace, Covina, Torrance, Anaheim, Rancho Cucamonga, Costa Mesa, Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Dimas and Whittier.

Recipients come and pick the desks at the builders’ homes to save on shipping costs. Some drive great distances. Hansanuwat has given desks to folks from Chino, Ontario, Upland, Montclair, Corona, Upland and Fontana, he said.

He matches requests to the nearest builder. The expansion has helped him keep up with demand — somewhat.

“They (builders) are not carpenters or wood workers. They are regular people. And they contacted me offering their help,” he explained. He prepared a step-by-step DIY video on YouTube to instruct builders and anyone else who wants to make a desk for their student at learning at home.

“This build team is just freaking amazing,” he said on Friday in a recorded YouTube video.

Families get desks

Nelson Chilin, 36, a father of four children, uses a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury and earns disability. He takes care of his kids at home while his fiancé, Maria Mesa, works for a medical supply company in Redlands.

The family was struggling to make ends meet. Even after seeing a desk on Amazon.com, Chilin said he couldn’t afford to buy it. “It is a little hard, financially,” he said.

Ryan Jimenez, a 5th grader, sits at one of two free desks in his Fontana home that he shares with his siblings. The desks were made by Chai Hansanuwat, a laid off tech worker from Chino. (photo courtesy of Nelson Chilin)

Chilin received two desks from Hansanuwat in September, three weeks into the school year. They are shared among his stepson, a sophomore in high school; his daughter in sixth grade; his son in sixth grade and his daughter in third grade, he said.

“It was crazy not having the desks,” Chillin said. “We live in a two bedroom apartment. Everybody is spread out, some on the dining room table.

“When they (desks) came in the kids were excited. They set up the desk where they can put their books and a lamp,” he said.

Hobby became big deal

Hansanuwat was earning a comfortable salary as a software development manager at OpenX in Pasadena when the company laid off more than half its employees, leaving him without a job.

As a hobby, Hansanuwat enjoys woodworking and carpentry. He had made bookshelves and coffee tables for friends but nothing commercial. He allowed his 10-year-old son to use his at-home desk and retreated to his workshop. He learned from his son’s video sessions how some kids didn’t have desks at home.

“I saw some of the kids in his class were just sitting at dining tables or whatever,” Hansanuwat said. He began making desks for his followers on Instagram and Facebook (@cr.crafted). When requests soared, he started a GoFundMe campaign which as of Monday, Oct. 5, had raised $11,012 in donations.

It costs $20-$25 per desk for supplies. Labor is free. Hansanuwat set a target of making 500 desks and a fundraising goal of $12,500 should let him break even. Now that requests are approaching 1,000, twice as many as his goal, his funding level is way short.

He has given out over 300 desks and believes reaching 500 will be possible. But 921 or more? That seems less possible to Hansanuwat, who said the waiting list is growing and wait times are reaching two weeks to a month.

“I don’t know if we can get through all 900 or so desks, now that the funding won’t cover that,” said a worried Hansanuwat.

He himself will have to start looking for a job in technology soon. He can’t keep working for free. “I have bills I have to pay,” he said.

He’s hoping the donations and the team of builders can help him continue the project. But for how long? He doesn’t know.

“I can only do what I can do,” he said.

To volunteer as a desk builder, go to https://forms.gle/vWMH4ZT7CcUz9n1H6.

To request a desk, go to: https://forms.gle/vXkGok44ZgGyevvJ8


Source: Orange County Register

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