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UAW, AT&T, WNY community help Cell Phones For Soldiers provide troops and veterans with free calls home

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Thu, Jun 30th 2016 03:20 pm

In celebration of the 4th of July holiday and this country's independence, more than 1,500 donated cellphones will be used to provide calling cards for deployed troops and veterans in need to call home 

Drive continues

Local United Automobile Workers members and its veterans committee teamed up with AT&T to help collect more than 1,500 gently used mobile devices over the past three months, which will now be donated to Cell Phones For Soldiers. The timing of the donation coincides with America's celebration of 240 years of freedom.

Proceeds from the recycled devices will be used to buy long-distance calling cards for troops at home and abroad. By donating these cell phones and mobile devices to Cell Phones For Soldiers, a joint effort by UAW, AT&T and the greater Western New York community, U.S. troops and injured veterans will be provided more than 75,000 minutes of free calling time to their loved ones back home.

Although the military landscape is ever changing, as many as 200,000 troops are serving around the world. By donating to Cell Phones For Soldiers, the UAW, AT&T and the community is providing a valuable lifeline for America's bravest men and women.

The collection drive - which began in April and lasted until early June - spanned all of Western New York. The public was able to drop off used mobile devices at collection bins in AT&T stores throughout the region, and UAW members were able to collect devices from friends and family and donate them in a collection bin in one of the 14 local manufacturing facilities that employees a UAW workforce, and at the local's union hall.

Due to the success of the collection drive and the number of deployed troops and needy veterans it will positively impact, Congressman Brian Higgins and New York State Sen. Tim Kennedy have asked both the UAW and AT&T to join them in extending the collection of used mobile devices throughout the community until Labor Day. They challenged Western New Yorkers to help double the number of phones already collected to date.

Now until Labor Day, residents can donate their unneeded phones and/or tablets at all AT&T stores, and all UAW union halls, as well as Kennedy's district office (2239 South Park Ave., Buffalo) and Larkin at Exchange Building (lobby, 726 Exchange St., Buffalo)

"The comfort of a call home is a priceless gift to troops selflessly sacrificing their personal time to serve our nation," Higgins said. "We applaud the UAW and AT&T for their leadership in the Cell Phones for Soldiers program, we are encouraged by the great community support this effort has already received, and know extension of the program will help us reach even more of our troops through the generosity of Western New Yorkers."

Kennedy said, "As our troops bravely work to protect our nation and our freedom, we need to ensure we're doing everything we can to support and connect them with their families back here at home. After long days of sacrifice, they often look forward to spending fleeting time catching up with husbands, wives, kids and family, and we all know how invaluable those moments can truly be, especially when overseas.

"I'm proud to partner with Congressman Higgins, the UAW and AT&T to extend the Cell Phones for Soldiers drive throughout the summer, and I encourage folks who are looking for ways to thank our military families to get involved and give back."

Terry Dittes, director of UAW Region 9, said, "This is such a great opportunity to help our veterans reach out to family and friends wherever they may be stationed. We here in Region 9 are especially proud of our Region 9 veterans committee for all their great work. But when teamed up with AT&T, the UAW membership and the great community of Western New York, it only brings great results for our honorable veterans and deployed troops."

Marissa Shorenstein, New York president of AT&T, said, "At AT&T, we provide solutions to better connect the world, but nothing brings us more pride and joy than being able to connect our active military and veterans with their loved ones. I applaud the UAW leading this union and communitywide collection drive with AT&T, and I thank everyone that donated a mobile device. Their generosity will make the 4th of July holiday more enjoyable for some of America's bravest men and women and their families.

"AT&T looks forward to collaborating with Congressman Higgins, Sen. Kennedy and the UAW on expanding upon our already impressive results."

"As a proud veteran, I know that for deployed service members, regular communication is extremely important, because it can raise morale and help families cope with separation," said Guy Newell, president UAW local 774 and chairman of the UAW veterans committee for Region 9. "While letters and emails are a good line of communication, there is no substitute for speaking to your family over the phone. On behalf of the UAW veterans committee, I would like to thank our patriotic UAW membership and AT&T for making this possible so our men and women in uniform can keep in touch with loved ones."

For every donated phone valued at just $5, Cell Phones For Soldiers is able to provide two-and-a-half hours of free talk time to deployed troops through calling cards.

Cell Phones For Soldiers was founded in 2004 by Robbie and Brittany Bergquist, then ages 12 and 13, after they heard the story of a local soldier with a cell phone bill that totaled nearly $8,000. They decided to help this one man with just $21 of their own money. Cell Phones For Soldiers was born from there.

Since then, the charity has provided more than 216 million minutes of free talk time to servicemen and women stationed around the world through its calling card program, "Minutes That Matter."

Funds raised from the recycling of cellular phones are used to purchase prepaid international calling cards. On average, Cell Phones For Soldiers distributes 1,500 calling cards each week to bases around the world, care package programs, deployment ceremonies and VA hospitals.

"Each year we have been humbled by the number of people and organizations like AT&T, UAW, Congressman Higgins and Sen. Kennedy that take part in this important initiative to support our military members," Robbie Bergquist said. "The communication gap between those serving and their families is a crucial need that Cell Phones For Soldiers is committed to addressing for years to come."

Since 2004, more than 11.7 million phones have been recycled or repurposed. For more information, visit www.cellphonesforsoldiers.com.

Approximately half of the phones processed are reconditioned and reused. Phones and components that cannot be refurbished are dismantled and responsibly recycled to reclaim materials.

To prepare your mobile phone for donation - and protect your privacy - here are some tips on how to erase all personal information that may be stored on it:

•Remove your phone's SIM card.

•Erase your address book, photos, messages and other stored information.

•Restore the device's factory settings. For instructions on how to do this, go to owner's manual or to the manufacturers' website.

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