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Cell Phones for Soldiers kicks off collection season

Ellen Abbott
Lt. Col. Paul Jackson (left) and Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) kick off the Cell Phones for Soliders collection drive in central New York.

If you have old cell phones that you need to get rid of this holiday season, state Sen. John DeFrancisco has a place for them. DeFrancisco's seventh annual Cell Phones for Soldiers collection drive has commenced.   

L.t Col. Paul Jackson, currently of the Syracuse Recruiting Battalion, was deployed in Afghanistan this time last year. Free calling cards were his lifeline to family and friends back home.

"I didn’t always sleep in the same place every night," Jackson said. "And I didn’t know the infrastructure of each camp. But every camp, it’s fairly predictable, has a morale tent, and in that morale tent you have landlines to call home. Those calling cards are the actual thing that links us to our loved ones at home.”

He says the cards came are important because he moved around to different camps as part of his job.

“You’re at a camp that’s foreign to you," Jackson explained. "Everybody else lives there every day, but you don’t. So you want to call home and get that in the back of your mind so you can sleep at night, and the calling cards really come in handy for that.”

Cell Phones for Soldiers is a national non-profit group that raises money for calling cards through recycling old phones. Last year, central New Yorkers donated more than 1,500 phones, providing soldiers with about 3,000 hours of free calling card time.

"When soldiers go to a place that’s not their home, and we’re there to do a mission, that’s where the focus is," Jackson said. "But you’re separated from loved ones and you want those opportunities to reach out and touch them, and Cell Phones for Solders provides the calling cards that allow us to do that.”

But Jackson also s it’s not just soldiers that need the contact, but family members.

"I’m third generation military, and they understand the deal," he said. "But they, my mom, you can always hear it in her voice when I call and say 'hey, I’m okay.'"

This year, DeFrancisco says there are more collection sites where you can drop the phones off before Jan. 5, including libraries across central New York. One cell phone provides an average of two hours of free talk time.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.