Retirees Council spearheading cell phone donation efforts

  • Published
  • By Valerie Mullett
  • 341st Space Wing Public Affairs Office
Team Malmstrom knows what an important role the Retirees Council plays every year in support of Operation Happy Holidays. The two go hand-in-hand because of the recurring commitment the retirees make every year to ensure the program's success. Their motto, "Happy to Still Serve" has led them to take on another venture in support of the active-duty military. 

Thanks to the determination of one council member and his wife, Denis and Gloria Miller took the initial steps to become partners with Cell Phones for Soldiers, a program started by two teens in 2004. 

The teens heard a news report one morning while having breakfast about a deployed Army soldier from Massachusetts who had accumulated a $7,600 cell phone bill as a result of calling his family back home. Brittany and Robbie Bergquist of Norwell, Mass., didn't feel this was right that someone serving to protect the country's freedoms should have to pay to talk to their family back home. That is how Cell Phones for Soldiers got started. 

With $21 of their own money and a fierce determination to make a difference, in the four years since its inception, the teens - with the help of millions of Americans - have sent $1.4 million worth of pre-paid phone cards to deployed service members, according to a USA Today article posted on their Web site 

To accomplish this, all they asked for was a donation of an unused, unwanted cell phone. 

"After reading how incredibly hard these two teens have worked and how easy it would be to help them out, I approached the [retirees] council about becoming partners as a project for us to undertake," Mr. Miller said. "We all voted on it, it passed and I got busy." 

One of the links on the Web site lists drop off locations around the country. For Montana, there aren't very many, and there were none in Great Falls. 

But there are now. 

"I noticed that First Interstate Bank in Helena was a drop off location and since we bank at First Interstate here, I approached them first about putting out a drop box to collect cell phones," Mr. Miller said. "They were very eager to help us out and now both Great Falls branches have drop boxes." 

After some additional leg work and recruiting on behalf of the program, there are now drop boxes located at these locations as well:
- McCullom Modern RV
- Big Sky Harley Davidson
- VFW Post 1087
- All four branches of 1st Liberty Federal Credit Union
- Just Nails 

More could be added in the future. 

So how do used cell phones get turned into pre-paid phone cards? 

The Bergquist children have contracted with a cell phone recycling center in Michigan. Each phone sent to the center equates to $5 towards a pre-paid phone card. AT&T has also signed on as an official sponsor of this 501c3 non-profit organization. 

"It is an easy way to help that costs literally nothing to participate in," Mr. Miller said. 

The Retirees Council has now also received leadership approval to set up drop boxes at Malmstrom and at the Montana Air National Guard. They are located at :
- Base Exchange main lobby area
- Commissary entrance
- Clinic entrance
- 1st Liberty Credit Union satellite branch
- Building 500 main lobby
- MANG Headquarters Building 

"This is truly an amazing effort on the part of two young children so dedicated to making a difference for our military," said retired Col. Milt Feltch, current president of the Retirees Council. "I am excited for the retirees to take the lead in helping with this project." 

The retirees have collected more than 40 cell phones, to date, and they want to collect more. 

"I know there has to be folks on base and in the community that have old cell phones sitting around not being used," Mr. Miller said. "If they aren't serving a purpose for you any more, why not consider donating to this program?" 

According to a press release provided by the organization, the Bergquist family hopes to raise more than $9 million in the next five years to fund new programs, such as providing video phones and prepaid service to allow soldiers abroad to see their families on a regular basis. 

Everyone has the option of helping them attain that goal. 

Donate your old, unused cell phone today.
Things you should know about the program: 
* Donations are tax deductible. Donors can go to the Web site to print off a donation receipt for tax purposes. 

* Your privacy can be protected. There is a cell phone eraser tool offered on the homepage of the Web site for individuals wanting to clean up their phone before donating it. Directions for use are provided. 

* Families with deployed members can request their loved one be sent a phone card. Click on the "Help Us Find Your Soldier" link at the top of the Web site's home page. 

* Individuals or organizations wanting to help but not having a cell phone to donate can purchase supplies to build more drop boxes. Contact Mr. Miller at 866-0683 for specifics. 

* Cell phone shipments cannot weigh more than three pounds to qualify for use of the pre-paid shipping labels. Donations of small boxes, for this purpose, are also welcomed. Contact Mr. Miller at 866-0683 or the Retirees Activities Office at 731- 4751 if you have boxes to donate. Please leave a message if no one answers.