Group collects cell phones

By Janet Bresenham, Freedom New Mexico

The chance to call home and hear the voice of a loved one can make a big difference to military men and women serving overseas.

Now, making that possible can be as simple as donating a used cell phone.

The director and students at the Wesley Foundation in Portales are collecting used cell phones this semester to send to a national nonprofit program that exchanges the phones for calling cards, which are given to people serving overseas in all branches of the military.

Wesley Foundation interim director John Lowry-King said he recently found out about the national “Cell Phones for Soldiers” program and decided to start a local collection drive in Portales as a service project for college students.

The Wesley Foundation is the student ministry outreach of the United Methodist churches.

However, Lowry-King said the collection is open to anyone in the local communities who wants to contribute used cell phones for the program.

“Anyone can bring their used cell phones to us; in fact, the more, the merrier,” he said. “So many people want to help but they don’t know how. Or they say, ‘I’ve heard of that but I’ve never done it.’ So we wanted to have a local collection site and then at the end of the spring semester, we’re going to box up the used cell phones and ship them out to Cell Phones for Soldiers.”

The Cell Phones for Soldiers program was started in April 2004 by Norwell, Mass., students Brittany and Robbie Bergquist with $21 of their own money, according to their Web site.

Now, through their registered 501-C3 nonprofit organization has distributed more than one million minutes of talk time on prepaid calling cards for soldiers serving overseas, Brittany Bergquist said.

“We are still having an amazing response to our program,” she said. “All it takes is one person in each state who decides to pay it forward and make a difference in the lives of our troops. That’s what makes ‘Cell Phones for Soldiers’ work.”

The program seemed a natural fit for his diverse group of students who attend weekly luncheons and other events at the Wesley Foundation, Lowry-King said.

“This is about military service members being able to call their girlfriends, moms, sisters, brothers and other loved ones,” Lowry-King said. “We have people overseas who are putting their lives on the line for our country. You have to respect that and honor that. That’s a big part of why we’re doing this.”

Bob Bergquist, father of the teens who started the national program, said they hope to give the prepaid calling cards generated by the Portales collection of used cell phones to a local military family support group for distribution to local service members stationed overseas.

“Our family controls the mailing of the calling cards to soldiers, so we always try to keep it local if the collection site is local,” he said.

The program sends calling cards instead of the actual cell phones because of logistics and security concerns, Brittany Bergquist said.