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Recycle a phone - help a soldier

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Los Alamos Fire Department embraces national program for the troops

By Carol A. Clark

Soldiers serving overseas are given the comfort of calling their loved ones back home at no charge through a program embraced recently by the Los Alamos Fire Department. Local firefighters began collecting old cell phones earlier this month to convert into phone cards for the troops through the “Cell Phones For Soldiers” program.

“I was contacted about the program in late May or early June by Wally McCorkle at the lab,” Deputy Chief Patrick Sleik said. “Chief (Doug) Tucker and I thought it was a good program so we approached County Administrator Tony Mortillaro. He agreed and gave us the green light to move forward. County Council passed a proclamation last Tuesday making July ‘Cell Phone for Soldiers’ month.”

Sleik said the program got started in 2004 when a sister and brother, Brittany, 13, and Robbie Bergquist, 12, learned of a soldier who ran up a cell phone bill of nearly $8,000 for calling his family. Having a cousin serving in Iraq at the time made the teens realize the importance of keeping in touch with loved ones.

They decided to help pay the soldier’s bill. When they brought their $21 to the bank, the manager was so impressed that he contributed $500. This motivated the siblings to continue their project. They held car washes and bake sales and came up with the idea of recycling used cell phones. eeee

With help from volunteers, they set up drop-off sites across the United States and used proceeds from recycling to buy the prepaid phone cards for the troops.

To date, they have raised nearly $1 million and donated more than 450,000 phone cards, which equals 2.5 million talk time minutes.

 “We want to keep this going all year,” Sleik said. “We encourage community members to drop off their old cell phones at any one of our fire stations.”

Cell phones collected in Los Alamos will be sent to a mobile device recycler, which pays $5 for every donated phone which equals one hour of talk time.