Charleston effort helps troops call home with old phones

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV/AP) - Four Charleston County parks this week began collecting old cellphones for the Cell Phones for Soldiers program.

"We have actually been wanting to do something to give back to the US military for a number of years and we thought this was a great opportunity to do so," said Sarah Reynolds, Publicity Coordinator for Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission.

The phones are being collected through the end of August. They are exchanged for pre-paid calling cards which are given to the troops. Both working and non-working phones from any provider are being collected.

"Donation boxes are sent to our recycler where the phones are recycled, either refurbished or the parts are melted down, and we are able to generate a profit to purchase pre-paid phone cards and that is what we send over to military members so that they can call home for free," said Robbie Bergquist, co-founder of Cell Phones for Soldiers.

For each device valued at $5, the troops get two-and-a-half hours of free talk time.

They send out over 7,500 cards each week, especially to bases where there is no internet connection.

"We just spoke to a soldier who is in Japan and he said that we was having to pay 20 dollars for 10 unites, which means 10 minutes, so there is still hefty charges to be able to call home and that is where these phone cards really come in handy," said Bergquist.

All the soldiers are happy to keep us with those they left behind.

"These men and woman are calling home on major holidays and saying hi on Christmas, they are hearing their child cry for the first time, they are able to say happy birthday to their children," said Bergquist.

The goal is to allow soldiers to stay in touch with their loved ones while serving our country.

Park officials are hoping to collect as many phones as possible.

"This also helps keep cell phones out of landfills, so it is also recycling in a sense, which is also a big. We are always doing things to support recycling and stewardship in our park system," said Reynolds.

People can drop off old phones at James Island County Park, Wannamaker County Park, Palmetto Islands County Park and the Mount Pleasant Pier in designated boxes through the end of August.

Cell Phones for Soldiers has provided more than 2.5 million calling cards for the troops in the past decade.

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