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Nonprofit transforms old cell phones into calling cards for troops overseas

POSTED: March 16, 2009 11:31 p.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Pak Mail Center owner Judy Zwierzchowski packs a box with old cell phones Monday in Dawsonville. The phones will be donated to Cell Phones For Soldiers.

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For soldiers serving overseas, a simple phone call home can be very meaningful.

To help soldiers stay connected to their families, the Pak Mail Center in Dawsonville is collecting old cell phones for nonprofit Cell Phones For Soldiers.

The group was founded by teenagers Robbie and Brittany Bergquist from Norwell, Mass., with $21 of their own money. Since then, the registered nonprofit organization has raised almost $2 million and distributed more than 500,000 prepaid calling cards to soldiers serving overseas.

"We take the actual cell phones and then we send them to Recellular on behalf of Cell Phones For Soldiers," said Pak Mail spokeswoman Judy Zwierzchowski.

Pak Mail, a packing and shipping services company, sends the collected cell phones to a company called Recellular, which recycles the phones and sends money to the nonprofit. Cell Phones For Soldiers then sends prepaid calling cards out for distribution.

"A lot of people bring their packages to be shipped to military ... and when they bring those in we put a phone card in each box for them," Zwierzchowski said. "We provide those to military families for free."

Zwierzchowski said there are many people in the area who regularly send packages abroad to their loved ones serving overseas, so she gets to hear firsthand how well-received the program has been.

"I had one girl who sent about a package a month to her boyfriend," Zwierzchowski said. "He had 30 guys in his unit, and they were getting jealous because I was putting one in every one of his packages."

Though he was sharing his phone cards with the other soldiers in his unit, he sent his girlfriend a note back asking if there was a way to send more cards next time.

Zwierzchowski said she called Cell Phones For Soldiers and they immediately sent 30 cards, which she sent in his next package.

"That unit was just thrilled to death with that," Zwierzchowski said.

Another regular customer expressed her gratitude for the cards, which allow her brother to call home regularly.

"‘He relies on that card. We know when he gets his package because he calls almost immediately when he gets his package,’" Zwierzchowski said she was told.

The program has gotten a positive response since it was started in November. Friday alone, one customer donated 10 used cell phones.

"It’s a continuing effort," Zwierzchowski said. "It has been an overwhelming response for this area."

Nationally, Pak Mail has been a major participant in the Cell Phones For Soldiers

"We have been the largest distributor so far," Zwierzchowski said. "We’re extremely proud to be part of this program."



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