A couple of days ago, we noted the failure of a DoD-backed program, encouraging Americans to send a text message of gratitude to military personnel over the Thanksgiving Weekend. Under the aegis of an assistant Secretary of Defense--and with the support of cell phone companies and various media outlets (which provided free publicity)--the "Giving Thanks" campaign was supposed to trigger a flood of text messages from grateful Americans, to members of the armed forces.
The results were less-than-impressive. Over a five-day period, the campaign generated only 130,000 messages of thanks, a tiny fraction of the 800 million text messages sent in this country during that same period. We believe the poor response is a reflection of indifference by many Americans, whose connection to the military is tenuous, at best. Several readers have also complained that they didn't know about the campaign, so perhaps the promotion effort--or lack thereof--was equally at fault.
If "Giving Thanks" was a relative flop, then it's reassuring to know that other military support programs are working just fine--and, in some cases, on a relative shoestring. Tuesday's edition of USA Today highlighted the efforts of Brittany and Robbie Bergquist, a brother and sister from Lowell, Massachusetts. Three years ago, they founded Cell Phones for Soldiers, after learning that an Army reservist faced a $7,000 phone bill for making calls home for Iraq.
The Bergquist's support program is based on three principles, writes USA Today's Rick Hampson:
"Most people have an old, inactive cellphone lying around; they'd probably donate it to the right cause; and they'd agree that, as Brittany puts it, "Everyone has a right to call home."
In three years, an effort that began with a piggybank raid and a car wash has turned into a booming home front charity — one that has turned its founders' lives upside down and won them devoted friends throughout the military and beyond.
Cell Phones for Soldiers solicits unwanted cellphones, sells them to a recycler for about $5 each and uses the money to buy pre-paid phone cards that are shipped to the war zone.
CPFS collects at least 50,000 phones a month, more than all but a few companies in the nation. The 7,000 drop-off locations range from AT&T retail stores and Liberty Tax Service offices to Fabulous Freddy's Car Wash in Las Vegas and Fine Line Auto Repair in Anchorage.
The organization sends about 25,000 one-hour phone cards overseas each month. This holiday season the Bergquists are working toward a bold goal: a phone card a month for each of the more than 185,000 U.S. service members in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf. That would cost about $750,000, half of all they've raised in three years.
Did we mention that Brittany Bergquist is 16 years old, and her brother is only 15? When they founded the charity, the siblings were 13 and 12, respectively. Makes you wonder; if a couple of teenagers, working largely on their own, can recycle enough cell phones to send 25,000 phone cards to Iraq and Afghanistan each month, then you'd think that the "pros" at DoD and in the media world could do better than 130,000 text messages over a long holiday weekend.
BTW, if you'd like to support Cell Phones for Soldiers, please visit their website, which provides more information on the charity's efforts, and lists drop-off points for used cell phones.