LOWVILLE — The final week of the annual Cell Phones for Soldiers collection drive sponsored by Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, is underway and making its last push toward helping as many soldiers as possible connect with their loved ones during the holiday season.

The campaign was kicked off by Sen. Griffo and AT&T representatives on Veterans Day at the Central New York Veterans Outreach Center as part of Military Family Appreciation Month.

Although the focus of the program is to ensure troops, no matter where they are stationed, have the long distance calling time needed to reach out to their loved ones, the program offers the added benefits of keeping the devices out of landfills and perhaps freeing up some space in drawers around the senator’s district where the old phones lurk.

According to the news release about the program, the donated cell phones and tablets are turned in for recycling in exchange for cash, which is used to buy calling cards.

Two-and-a-half hours of talk time can be purchased with every $5 of phone or tablet value, the release said.

Devices can be donated at a number of Lewis and St. Lawrence county businesses including Lloyds of Lowville, 7405 S. State St.; the Lowville Free Library, 5387 Dayan St.; the Beaver River American Legion Memorial Post 1663, 9833 Main St., Croghan; Sergi’s Italian Restaurant, 10 Market St., Potsdam; Town of Potsdam offices, 18 Elm St.; and the Massena Public Library, 41 Glenn St.

AT&T stores and a number of other locations in the Rome and Utica areas are also collection points.

Cell Phones for Soldiers is a non-profit organization founded in 2004 by 12- and 13-year-old siblings, Robbie and Brittany Bergquist, who were inspired to take action after they heard of a soldier returning from Iraq with a nearly $8,000 phone bill.

Since that time, the organization has provided more than 300 million minutes of talk time on more than 5 million calling cards through its Minutes that Matter program. The program also has kept more than 15 million mobile devices out of landfills.

Over the past four years since Sen. Griffo started this program locally, area residents have donated about 3,800 devices, providing troops with about 171,225 minutes of talk time.

“The upcoming holidays are an especially hard time for our soldiers overseas to be so far away from their families, and the simple sound of a loved one’s voice can go a long way to lift up their spirits,” Deputy Minority Leader Griffo said.

To donate your gently used phones or tablets, Cell Phones for Soldiers recommends you protect your personal data first:

— Delete or otherwise remove all of your contacts, photos, messages, call lists and any other stored information

— If your devices have SIM cards, remove the SIM cards

— Restore the device’s factory settings as explained in the user’s manual or online on the manufacturer’s website.

For more information on Cell Phones For Soldiers, visit www.cellphonesforsoldiers.com.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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