Cell phones sought for soldier calls

RANGELY I Each week, the Cell Phones for Soldiers program mails approximately 12,000 calling cards to veterans at home and soldiers overseas. Each card provides veterans and troops 2-1/2 hours of talk time with family and friends.
These cards are the end result of someone dropping an old, no-longer-used cell phone into one of 15,000 collection points across the country.
Rangely’s White River Market is one of those points. And while the small white box by the store’s entryway collects approximately 50 phones each year, it could be doing so much more, officials say.
Enter awareness-raising of a venture that’s win-win no matter how the calling cards fall. Cell Phones For Soldiers, a 501(c)(3) non-profit group started by 12- and 13-year-old Massachusetts siblings in 2004, has provided 181 million minutes of free talk time for soldiers and veterans since its inception nine years ago.
The program has turned over more than 10.8 million cell phones — each of which earns $5 or the equivalent of 150 minutes of talk time — to ReCellular, the world’s largest mobile device recycling company.
Last year, it launched a partner program called Helping Heroes Home, which provides emergency funds to returning veterans facing communication, physical and emotional, and assimilation challenges.
All of that matters, given that the Military Benefits Deployment Center lists staying in touch with loved ones as a top five “how to survive deployment” strategy, that 42 percent of military personnel have indicated feeling like a “guest” in their home after a deployment, and that more than 1 million veterans used mental health services in 2010.
“The phones aren’t doing any good in people’s drawers,” said Jeanne Smith, who collects the Rangely donations and sends them to Jan Huffman, president of the Ladies Auxiliary Military Order of the Purple Heart in Aurora, Colo., and Smith’s sister. “If people donate them, the soldier, whether wounded, overseas or a veteran, can use them. If the phones can do some good to somebody, they might as well.”
Smith understands the need for soldiers to keep in touch with loved ones. Her father served and earned multiple honors in the Army, as did her brother-in-law in the Air Force and Army.
This year, in one month alone, the Aurora Ladies Auxiliary gave 2,600 calling cards worth 162,000 minutes of call time — that’s 2,700 hours — to homeless veterans in the U.S. and wounded soldiers in Afghanistan.
“All this comes from everyday good people like the ones in and around your store in Rangely (and others throughout this great state of Colorado),” Huffman wrote in a letter of appreciation to Bill Wilkerson, manager of White River Market.
Like Huffman, Smith is grateful to Wilkerson and others who have dropped their old devices — literally — in favor of new ones. She plans to add more boxes in Rangely soon.
What’s more, Rangely’s not alone. Meeker residents continue to help soldiers and veterans by donating their phones at the White River Electric Association office at 233 Sixth St.