VIDEO: Seniors build desks for students in need of a place to study at home

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By KCBS Radio

In Sonoma County, a small act of kindness has snowballed into something much larger.

A network of garage woodworkers has been mobilized to help solve a problem facing many students who are still doing distance learning. Joe Brewer and his wife Chris Nota have turned their Oakmont garage into a shop where they churn out free desks for students to use at home.

It is not the retirement the couple was expecting.

"The things we thought we were gonna do in our retirement, are now deemed unsafe, right? Grandkids, travel, socializing," said Nota.

It has become nearly a full time job for the couple.

"I think we’re also grateful in a pandemic to have meaningful work. Ninety-five percent of us are seniors," she said.

By "us" she means their neighbors, who have joined in on the project.

Brewer measures and cuts the wood and makes assembly kits, which his neighbors pick up and turn into finished desks before they are given to local schools to distribute to students.

"The need is really huge," said Ed Biglin, another volunteer. "I mean you can see that whenever we talk to a school. They just say, 'Oh god, what a great idea, yes, how many can you give us?"

So far, they’ve made and given out more than 100 since the project started in December and plan to keep going.

"Once all of us principals heard about this project or effort, we all got jealous," said Indy Monday, principal at Brook Hill elementary in Santa Rosa.

She said many of their students or stuck sharing space with siblings, like 4th grader Leo Manwell.

"Sometimes I would do it in my bedroom or my kitchen, but I got a new desk and I really love it and I’ve been doing my work on that," he said. "I also got a blue chair with it, you can adjust the height and you can spin it."

Manwell was surprised that a group of seniors would want to do something like that just for him.

Nota said that’s exactly the reaction they were hoping for, and what’s motivated dozens of other volunteers and donors to help out. “Seeing the look on their faces, that, ‘Oh my gosh this is mine?’ They can’t believe it. It’s what keep us going."

For Biglin, a retired professor, it’s a small scale solution to a much bigger problem.

"The level of inequality in the county is amazing. We can’t fix the rest of the inequality, but we can build desks."

The group is raising money for supplies through a GoFundMe and is still accepting volunteers who want to help build.