The Home Depot – 34 desks built, donated for families of Apache Junction school district students
By Scott Bordow
It had become part of Breanna Gann’s daily routine.
Each day after school she’d take the two laptop computers off her kitchen table and store them away for the night so she’d have room for dinner.
Then, in the morning, she’d grab the computers and place them back on the table. A few hours later she’d again put the computers away so her son, a kindergarten student at Four Peaks Elementary School, and the boy she babysat during the day could sit at the table for lunch.
“My kitchen table was the classroom,” Ms. Gann said.
That’s no longer the case.
Ms. Gann received two desks from Project HELP that were built by Emra Palen, an Apache Junction resident who, along with his wife, Barbara, have constructed and donated 34 desks for families of Apache Junction Unified School District students.
Mr. Palen got the idea for the desks while watching television a couple of months ago. He saw a news story about a man in California who was making desks for kids and turned to his daughter, who was visiting from Michigan, and said, “I could do that.”
The next day Mr. Palen, who worked in construction, got some scrap from his shop and made six desks. The wood didn’t match, but after talking to Project HELP coordinator Rosie Portgual-Brastad, he understood looks didn’t matter. Functionality did.
“I was told the schools were furnishing computers but the kids didn’t have any place to put them,” Mr. Palen said. “They were trying to put them on TV trays.”
The six desks initially supplied to Project HELP, a community-based organization that aids AJUSD families, were snapped up within hours. Knowing there was a greater demand, Mr. and Mrs. Palen decided to shop for supplies at the Home Depot on Crimson Road in Mesa.
“On the way over, my wife said, ‘This could get kind of expensive,’” Mr. Palen recalled.
The Palens went to the back of the store to pick up five pieces of particle board, 15 1-by-6 common boards, a bottle of glue and a package of nails. As they were shopping, Mrs. Palen suggested they find the manager, thinking perhaps Home Depot would give them a break on the price of the items.
Mr. Palen found the manager and told her what he needed the supplies for.
“We decided we’re going to give these to you,” the manager said.
“I didn’t intend for you to give them to me,” Mr. Palen replied. “I thought maybe we could go half and half.”
“What you’re doing is really good for the kids,” the manager said. “We’re going to give it to you.”
The savings to the Palens? Mr. Palen estimated about $300.
Mr. Palen plans on delivering eight more desks to Project HELP on Friday. After that, well, who knows? AJUSD is returning to in-person learning on March 22, lessening the need for desks at home.
But thanks to a man with capable hands and a good heart, parents like Ms. Gann no longer have to use their kitchen table as a makeshift desk.
Editor’s note: Scott Bordow is the director of communications and community engagement for Apache Junction Unified School District.