Program helps soldiers keep in contact
Cell phones, shoes, batteries and ink cartridges that can be recycled photographed Monday, May 7, 2012 in the lobby of village hall in Norridge. | Rob Hart~Sun-Times Media
What do you do with old cell phones?
Updated: June 11, 2012 8:22AM
It’s said that there are some phone calls a parent hopes to never get.
And then there are those for which moms, dads, spouses and children anxiously wait.
When service men and women are separated from family members by thousands of miles, a call, an email or a letter from a loved one can be their lifeline.
Keeping such communication channels open and affordable, however, sometimes proves difficult despite living in an age of widespread digital distribution.
Four years ago Norridge began doing its part to ensure deployed and returning troops have cost-free methods to communicate while serving in the U.S. military.
The village’s ongoing mission is simple: ask residents to donate any and all used cell phones. The response has been great: village staff annually collect about 400 devices for Cell Phones for Soldiers, a national program that provides free pre-paid calling cards to service men and women.
Last month Norridge received over 100 cell phone donations as part of its week-long celebration of Earth Day, which was April 22.
Doug Strempek, Norridge’s Information Technology Director, said various vendors have approached the village over the years to offer their recycling services.
Such proposals have yet to be considered, Strempek said, because of ease of donating to Cell Phones for Soldiers, not to mention its noble cause.
He said residents discard their mobile devices year-round in a drop-off bin located in the lobby of Village Hall, 4000 N. Olcott Ave..
Every few months Strempek makes a shipment to Cell Phones for Soldiers with a prepaid mailing label provided by the organization.
Since most of the cell phones it receives are not Global System for Mobile communication (GSM)-enabled and therefore would not work in the Middle East, the organization sells the goods to a recycling company.
Cell Phones for Soldiers then uses money received from the donated devices to purchase calling cards and other communication tools for the U.S. military.
Since its founding in 2004, the organization has collected and recycled nearly 10 million cell phones nationwide, which has translated into over 150 million minutes of free talk time for soldiers.
A representative from the organization said it does not ask for recipients’ personal information, such as their hometowns, and thus could not report how many people from Norridge have benefited from its program.
Regardless, local military families understand all too well the value of a call or message while their loved ones are away.
Norridge resident Bill Larson only recently had to adjust to not speaking with his middle child, William, on a regular basis.
A 2008 graduate of Ridgewood High School, William, now 22, wanted to be a Marine since his teenage years.
He enlisted last year and this past January began boot camp in San Diego.
For four months, communication with his family was limited to mail only — and not the quick and easy electronic kind.
There was no Skype, no text messaging, and, they learned later, no newspapers: the military confiscated a copy of the Norridge News he mailed to his son, Larson said.
“He was kind of in the dark,” he added.
Not only was it “interesting” to put pen to paper again, Larson said, but every letter he received from William required a level of scrutiny he wasn’t used to.
Larson explained how parents react to their faraway children’s words: “You worry and you hope everything is OK. So they write their letters and you try to decipher and pick up on anything they say that might mean they’re having issues. You have to read between the lines.”
The time spent apart was tough.
“It was hard to go 13 weeks (without talking) but we got through it,” Larson said.
Coincidentally enough, a few days before Norridge collected cell phones for soldiers, the Larsons and their extended family had traveled to California. William graduated on April 20 from the Marine Corps boot camp with Platoon 2131 of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion.
“It was a pretty emotional situation. It was awesome,” Larson said, not needing to clarify whether he meant the ceremony itself or a brief reunification with his now-U.S. Marine son.
Read more about Cell Phones for Soldiers at cellphonesforsoldiers.com.