By PENNY FLETCHER
RUSKIN – Hot and tired and never able to get completely comfortable even while at rest, thousands of American soldiers await their turn to hear a voice from home.
Whether they’re fighting in
Cell Phones for Soldiers, now a 501 C-3 non-profit charity, was started by two teenagers, Brittany and Robbie Bergquist of Norwell, Mass., when they were 12 and 13, after they heard a news report that a soldier in Iraq had received a $7,600 cell phone bill from calling home.
The two started fundraising and gained national attention on Fox Evening News in 2004.
Now connected to all six branches of U.S. military; Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, Navy and National Guard, Cell Phones for Soldiers provides 60 minutes of free international calling for every used cell phone donated.
Joan Miller of Summerfield Crossings in Riverview decided to help. President of the family-owned business she operates with her son, Rick Razick, and daughter Kimberly Scott, she made their business a collection center.
Now anyone in
“Just about everybody has a drawer full of them somewhere in their house,” Joan said. “Since 2004, the program has provided more than 90 million minutes of free talk time to the troops and kept more than 7.5 million cell phones out of our landfills.”
When they get about 50 phones, she ships them off.
“We don’t want to wait until the box is really heavy,” she explained.
Joan is hoping people who get new cell phones for the holidays will remember the troops overseas.
“This is the time of year a lot of people change cell phones,” she said.
Joan became interested in helping the project because it’s something people can do that won’t cost them money. If they’re getting a new phone anyway, donating the old one just makes sense.
“With the economy the way it is, it’s hard for people to give money but they still want to help others,” she told me. “This is one way they can do it without spending more money.”
The one-time finance manager for a car dealership moved to
“We’ve been very blessed,” she said, referring to her family and business. She and two of her three children opened the business in 1990 in
“The chairs came in time but the desks didn’t,” she explained. “So I took the big boxes the chairs came in and wrote ‘President’ on one, and other titles on the others, and pushed them up in front of the chairs.”
Twenty years has passed since then.
Three-and-a-half years ago they built a new building in Ruskin with a gallery-style showroom. It wasn’t easy. Joan said the builder went bankrupt before completing the project and left them with thousands of dollars in bills.
“But my son (Rick) can do just about anything,” she said. “He got the project finished.”
Joan likes to show her gratitude for her blessings by helping others.
She was impressed when she heard a friend talking about Cell Phones for Soldiers.
The program receives its money from ReCellular, the largest recycler of mobile devices in the world. ReCellular pays for 60 minutes of time for each used cell phone donated, she said.
It is estimated by program organizers that Cell Phones for Soldiers has raised almost $2 million in donations and distributed more than 500,000 prepaid calling cards to soldiers serving overseas since it was started in 2004.
To find out more about Cell Phones for Soldiers, visit www.cellphonesforsoldiers.com. Meanwhile, don’t just drop that old cell phone in a drawer when you replace it. There’s a drop-box at Dove that always has room for one more phone.