More than $130,000 has been raised for a family in California after a photo of two young girls using the free WiFi in a Taco Bell parking lot to complete their school work went viral last week.
In the photo, two girls can be seen sitting on the sidewalk outside a Taco Bell in Salinas, California, working on laptops as an employee crouches down in front of them. The faces of the girls in the photo are obscured, but the Salinas City Elementary School District identified the students after the photo began to circulate and “immediately provided the family with a hotspot,” Richard Gebin, public relations officer for the district, told USA TODAY.
“The digital divide is very real and delays in receiving needed technology are a statewide concern,” Amy Ish, president of the Salinas City Elementary School District, said in a statement. “We are grateful the State is making technology a priority and look forward to receiving these hotspots in our District.”
The district, which has just under 8,500 students, is in full distance learning mode, according to Gebin. School officials have already distributed 8,245 Chromebooks and 1,500 hotspots and are now waiting for 2,500 additional hotspots to be delivered.
Jackie Lopez said she started a fundraising campaign for the family after learning the family was going to be evicted from their home, according to a GoFundMe. The fundraiser has since raised more than $130,000 and the family is working with an accountant to manage the funds.
“All children deserve a happy place to live and because of their dedication, these little girls deserve a safe space to learn,” Lopez wrote. “We appreciate every single one of you for helping making that happen.”
The school district clarified that it is not involved with any online fundraisers for the family. A spokesperson from GoFundMe confirmed the fundraiser has been verified.
The image, which has been shared by several local officials, highlights the stark reality that many of the millions of children who are now going back to school virtually do not have access to internet in their homes.
“This is California, home to Silicon Valley…but where the digital divide is as deep as ever,” Kevin de León, president pro tempore of the California Senate said in a tweet Friday. “Where 40% of all Latinos don’t have internet access. This generation deserves better.”
Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo also shared the photo on Twitter Wednesday saying, “we must do better & solve this digital divide once & for all for all California students.”
A spokesperson for Taco Bell Corp. called the photo “a tough reminder of basic inequalities facing our communities,” in a statement emailed to USA TODAY.
“We and our franchisees have always been passionate about supporting youth education, and the owner of this restaurant is looking into additional ways to support these students and the broader community,” a spokesperson said in an email.