When Phyllis Ostendorf was approached by one of her employees in February to start a collection of used cell phones to benefit soldiers, she was all for it.
Ostendorf encouraged participation because it's a worthy cause - and because the war hits close to home. Her son, Sgt. Robert Tully, who is based in Germany, is serving a second one-year tour in Iraq, she said.
"I think that it's important to let the men and women who are serving in the military know that we think about them," said Ostendorf, co-owner of County Ballet Dance Studio. "I know that moms look forward to that phone ringing and hearing the voice of their children on the other side."
Called Cell Phones for Soldiers, the program was started in 2004 by Brittany Bergquist and her brother, Robbie Bergquist, of Norwell, Mass. The program collects phones in a drop box and then sends them to a Michigan-based company called ReCellular. Each cell phone donated results in a one-hour calling card that is sent to soldiers serving overseas.
Since the program's inception, the nonprofit organization has raised more than $1 million and distributed more than 400,000 prepaid calling cards, according to its Web site.
The cell phone initiative isn't County Ballet's first effort to help deployed soldiers. A few months ago, members collected food items and other supplies for soldiers, Ostendorf said. Students at the ballet have also shipped Girl Scout cookies to Iraq, where they are shared among the troops.
Ostendorf added the cell phone recycling program to the list because she was impressed with the fact that it promoted recycling and helped soldiers stay connected with their families, she said.
"The founders of the program have a long-term goal: that every minute, every troop has a means to call home," "It just seems like getting people to give away something they would otherwise throw away is a smart thing to do," said Ostendorf, who has shipped 52 used cell phones. "Every 16 months, there are 130 million cell phones thrown out, and only 10 percent of them are recycled."
Used cell phones may be dropped off at County Ballet, 2232 Old Emmorton Road, Bel Air. For a list of other drop-off points in the county, visit the Web site at www.cellphonesforsoldiers.com.