January 16, 2011

Old cell phones finding new life

Exchanged for calling cards for U.S. soldiers

AUGUSTA -- Troy Genest happily agreed to collect old cell phones so he can swap them for prepaid calling cards to be used by U.S. troops overseas.

click image to enlarge

These are some of the old cell phones collected at Don's Famous Franks for the Cell Phones for Soldiers program at the restaurant in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Don Demers, of American Legion, Post 205, along with Linda Moody and Troy Genest, of Don's Famous Franks, hold some of the old cell phones collected there for the Cell Phones for Soldiers program at the restaurant on Monday afternoon in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Don Demers had asked Genest, who owns Don's Famous Franks on Mount Vernon Avenue, to participate in "Cell Phones for Soldiers," a national program sponsored in this area by American Legion Post 205.

So Genest placed collection boxes in his restaurant in November. So did 40 other local businesses.

The phones are sent to ReCellular, which pays $50 for each donated phone -- enough to provide an hour of talk time on a prepaid calling card.

"The idea is a really great one," Genest said Monday. "Last year, we were the No. 1 location for the Legion. We collected over 200 phones. I've got three boxes here now that he needs to pick up."

Based in Dexter, Mich., ReCellular is a recycler and reseller of used cellular phones and accessories.

Demers, of Augusta, said the company refurbishes old phones and sells them in the European market. If they can't be fixed, then the phones are stripped of precious metals and plastic, which are recycled.

"It's a win-win situation," Demers said. "If you don't know what to do with your old phones, here's an opportunity. You also help soldiers and keep things like lead out of the environment, which is in the soldering and poisonous. They recycle the lithium battery, which also is harmful to the environment."

He said the program is usually done in November, before the holidays. But a few businesses in town keep the boxes out all year, including Damon's Beverage Mart -- formerly Lou's Beverage Barn -- at 75 Bangor St., and Aubuchon Hardware at 10 Bangor St.

Demers said more information about the program can be found online at

He said his Legion post already has collected and sent 17 boxes to ReCellular. He said each box carries about 100 phones along with chargers, which are stripped of copper wire used in the cords.

"There's no cost for shipping, it's free," he said.

Mike Newman, vice president of ReCellular, said Americans replaced an estimated 130 million cell phones a year.

Sue Koch, of Cell Phones for Soldiers, said more than 1.9 million phones were donated to Cell Phones for Soldiers during 2010.

"This includes donations from grassroots collectors like local American Legions, larger supporters such as AT&T, as well as individuals who responded to direct marketing envelopes that were distributed through a variety of channels," Koch said.

Since Cell Phone for Solders was founded in 2004, the nonprofit has raised almost $2 million in donations and distributed more than 500,000 prepaid calling cards to soldiers serving overseas, its principals said.

Brenda Dearborn, first vice commander for the American Legion Department of Maine, said the Legion will do anything it can to help veterans and soldiers.

"As a Vietnam vet, I know it's tough to be away from your family -- especially during wartime," Dearborn said. "The American Legion is constantly doing things for the vets here in the state and for soldiers overseas."

Mechele Cooper -- 623-3811, ext. 408

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