San Jose high school student raises $15,000 for Chromebooks
By baking and selling macarons, high school senior Shrobana Sengupta raised $15,000 for Chromebooks for low-income families in San Jose. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    One year and 10,000 macarons later, an idea Shrobana Sengupta cooked up in a kitchen turned her into a social entrepreneur.

    The Presentation High School senior raised $15,000 for 72 Chromebooks through a GoFundMe account for the nonprofit Sunday Friends. The laptops were donated to low-income families helped by the nonprofit. In exchange, donors received gift boxes of homemade macarons.

    “The fact that I was able to raise all this money through macarons and baking was just amazing,” the 17-year-old told San José Spotlight.

    The endeavor turned into a family affair. Sengupta’s parents financed the ingredients. Her mom helped clean up the kitchen and her dad washed dishes.

    Making the delicate, sweet meringue-based treats challenged her skills in the kitchen and her entrepreneurial spirit. At one point Sengupta thought about lowering her fundraising goal. Her parents convinced her to push through.

    “If you don’t try you will never know,” her father Samrat said.

    Presentation High School senior Shrobana Sengupta baked macarons to raise funds for low-income families. Photo courtesy of Shrobana Sengupta.

    An avid volunteer with Sunday Friends since middle school, Sengupta persevered.

    “Shrobana is a star,” Sunday Friends Executive Director James McCaskill said. “She set a lofty goal and kept chipping away at it. She was not going to give up until she reached that $15,000 mark. It was just extraordinary how she has balanced this project with being a teenager, her schoolwork and generating PR.”

    Like many businesses and organizations, Sunday Friends—founded in 1997 to help those in need—pivoted to online programming during the COVID-19 pandemic. The nonprofit, which empowers underserved families to break the generational cycle of poverty, has seen need grow from 234 families in 2019 to 300 in 2021.

    More than 90% of families the nonprofit serves qualify as extremely low-income, earning about $45,000 or less per household. They barely make rent, and have no discretionary funds, McCaskill said. 

    The Chromebooks are a lifeline, enabling families “to access every aspect of life from online banking to shopping to courses and resources,” McCaskill said.

    Sunday Friends is partnering with Sacred Heart to teach computer classes to these families. McCaskill said receiving a Chromebook incentivizes families to complete the course.

    Shrobana Sengupta became an expert at baking and decorating macarons. Photo courtesy of Shrobana Sengupta.

    Sengupta’s vision

    At the start of the pandemic, Sengupta heard stories about people struggling and knew Sunday Friends helped many who also lacked computers.

    Sengupta struggled with getting online during distance learning, and realized other students—who might not even have access to a computer at home—could be struggling with bad connectivity as well. As a Sunday Friends volunteer, she knew the “amazing work” the nonprofit did through resource drives and computer literacy programs and wanted to help.

    She started a small business in her kitchen with the oven on 24/7 making batches of macarons, with the batter in one corner, fillings in another and trays upon trays of macarons on her dining table.

    Baking seven days a week, she sometimes started early in the morning and worked late into the night. It helped that with distance learning she didn’t have to commute to school or participate in extracurricular activities, she said.

    “She’s just an amazing young woman,” McCaskill said. “She really took it to heart. The experience really taught her the power, joy and meaning of serving others.”

    Sunday Friends Executive Director James McCaskill said the Chromebooks helped the families it serves cross the digital divide. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Word of Sengupta’s project soon spread to friends and family, and she received an outpouring of support.

    “I’m just really appreciative that with raising this money and being able to provide these families with laptops, I’m not only helping them with work and school and having the proper resources, but also helping with them to get computer literacy skills,” she said.

    Sengupta, who is from Kolkata in eastern India, is inspired by Malala Yousafzai, who has spoken for the right of girls to be educated in Pakistan. Sengupta has the same drive. She raised funds for organizations such as St. Jude, Cure Alzheimer’s Fund and senior homes, and she’s just getting started.

    She intends to volunteer in college, and hopes to attend either Columbia University or the University of Pennsylvania.

    “I just want to keep doing more and more,” Sengupta said. “This has motivated me. It’s given me the confidence that I can do even bigger things in the future.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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