For members of the military, staying in touch with family members is an invaluable way to boost morale.
That's why, four years ago, the county launched its Cell Phones for Soldiers program, collecting used cell phones that could be exchanged for calling cards for members of the military stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan and other overseas locations.
On May 2 at the Hillsborough County Commission meeting, the county demonstrated the success of the program when it presented 2,600 calling cards representing 170,000 minutes to the MacDill Air Force Base Airman & Family Readiness Center, the 6th Medical Group and 6th Air Mobility Wing, and the 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Cell Phones for Soldiers was founded as a nonprofit in 2004 by two Norwell, MA, students, Rob and Brittany Bergquist, to provide deployed troops with cost-free methods to communicate with family while serving in the United States military.
Since 2004, the nonprofit has raised more than $7 million and provided more than 150 million minutes of free talk time.
The organization mails out about 12,000 calling cards each week and has recycled more than 10 million cell phones, reducing the impact on landfills.
In its seven years in existence, the nonprofit has provided troops with more than 2 million pre-paid calling cards, equating to more than 150 million minutes of free talk time.
Used mobile phones from all service providers are accepted. Each donated device valued at $5 will provide troops with 2.5 hours of free talk time.
"Cell Phones for Soldiers started as a small way to show our family's appreciation for the men and women who have sacrificed the day-to-day contact with their own families to serve in the U.S. armed forces," said the teens' father, Bob Bergquist, on the nonprofit's website. "Over the past few years, we have been overwhelmed by the generosity of others. But, we have also seen the need to support our troops continue to grow as more troops are sent overseas for longer assignments."
Hillsborough County participates in the program by sending surplus county cell phones, and phones collected in boxes located at 10 county facilities. Since August 2008, the county has collected more than 6,800 phones and donated more than 408,000 minutes of talk time to military men and women.
The drop boxes are at the following locations:
- , 1906 Bloomingdale Ave., Valrico
- Brandon Regional Service Center, 311 Pauls Dr., Brandon
- Carrollwood Cultural Center, 4537 Lowell Rd., Tampa
- County Center Lobby, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa
- Jan K. Platt Regional Library, 3910 S. Manhattan Ave., Tampa
- Jimmy B. Keel Regional Library, 2902 W. Bearss Ave., Tampa
- New Tampa Regional Library, 10001 Cross Creek Blvd., Tampa
- SouthShore Regional Library, 15616 Beth Shields Way, Ruskin
- SouthShore Regional Service Center, 410 30th St. SE, Ruskin
- Upper Tampa Bay Regional Library, 11211 Countryway Blvd., Tampa.