Cell Phones for Soldiers:
Cell Phones for Soldiers provides calling cards for deployed service members, funding the minutes by recycling cell phones. Unlike the USO, which is large and experienced, this organization began in 2004 when Brittany and Robbie Bergquist, ages 13 and 12, saw a soldier on TV who had an $8,000 phone bill for calling home from a war zone. The kids gathered all the money they had—totaling around $20—to donate. To earn more, they began hosting car washes and bake sales, but finally hit on collecting old cell phones and sending them overseas with prepaid minutes. Unfortunately, those phones pose a risk to soldiers because of their ability to detonate improvised explosive devices or reveal locations, and the Pentagon asked the Bergquists to stop. Now, they use the money from recycling to send phone cards so troops have the opportunity to call home for free safely. “We have been lucky enough that we’ve brought in enough through recycling and donations that we’ve never had to turn away a request for calling cards,” Brittany Bergquist says.
Requests come in through different channels. Usually troops or family members reach out, but other times a unit officer or chaplain calls in requesting cards for groups of troops. To ensure they reach people who need them, Cell Phones for Soldiers usually sends them to APO or FPO addresses. The exceptions are when they send them to the hospital for wounded servicemen and women, or when families need them to stay in touch with service members training long term at U.S. locations far from home. Occasionally the Bergquists deliver the cards in person. “[We had the] honor to be able to go to Walter Reed and Bethesda [medical centers] and meet with some of the young guys,” Bergquist says. She explains it was difficult to see the wounded service members who were “only a couple of years older than Robbie and me and in such dire situations. But they were happy and excited and looking forward to the future.”
Military community members can request cards through the organization’s website. If they are unable to do that, Bergquist says they can email or “just truly reach out any way that they can, and we will get a calling card to them.” Anyone who would like to help fund the calling cards can donate cell phones or make a monetary donation.
The organization is partnered with AT&T, and because most of the calling cards are purchased in bulk through the company, Cell Phones for Soldiers receives a significant discount. AT&T also collects phones and makes donations. Continuing the organization has been challenging at times as the siblings balance school with running the charity. During their younger years, “we got picked on a little bit for what we did,” Bergquist says. But emails they receive have kept their motivation strong. “We heard from one guy who was deployed,” she explains. “He said that our calling cards gave him a little bit of heaven in the middle of a war.” They also heard from a dad who was able to call home for his son’s birthday and a daughter who was able to call her father before surgery. Another gentleman used the cards to call into counseling sessions each week. “He said it saved his marriage,” Bergquist states. “It makes it all worth it.”
The passion that started the organization has not abated over the years. “It means so much to me that we have these troops...these men and women are our heroes. They’re absolutely incredible,” Bergquist says. Soldiers overseas show off their shipment of calling cards from Cell Phones for Soldiers. The organization recycles cell phones to raise funds and purchase calling cards to send to deployed service members so they can call home free of charge. For information on Cell Phones for Soldiers refer to http://www.cellphonesforsoldiers.com
, call (800) 426- 1031, or email mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
[Source: AFCRA Veterans Focus Rita Boland article Nov 2011 ++]