Girl Scouts helping servicemen

With almost everyone including kindergartners carrying cell phones these days, it’s often hard to decide what to do with an old lifeline that has seen better days.

That’s where the girls of Bremerton’s Girl Scout Troop 50599 are waiting to lend a helping hand.

The troop recently joined the nationwide Cell Phones for Soldiers program and is collecting cell phones, which are recycled for cash and those proceeds are used to purchase prepaid calling cards for soldiers serving in the Middle East.

“One of the things we’re working on this year is patriotism,” said troop adult volunteer Margie Torbron.

In seeking a way to teach the girls in the troop about patriotism, Torbron said she originally set out to find the Adopt A Platoon program, but found Cell Phones For Soldiers instead.

“We decided this was the project we were going to do, and they’re very excited about it,” she said.

Already the girls have been working on decorating the drop box for the cell phone donations, she said.

“Many of our girls have parents serving in Iraq or have a family member in the military or know someone who is,” she said.

With the area’s strong military presence, the program has added importance for the girls in the troop, she said.

“One of the girls said it made her feel like we’re one big family,” she said.

Since the program has just started, Torbron said the troop has no set goal for the number of phones it hopes to collect.

“At this point I’m going to say our goal is continuous until our boys come home,” Torbron said.

The troop’s dedication is in line with the goals set by Brittany and Robbie Berquist from Norwell, Mass., who started the program.

“We are always so excited when Girl Scouts and other organizations that kids are in join us to help the troops,” Brittany Berquist said.

The program began in April 2004 when the Berquists heard about a local soldier from Massachusetts, who had a more than $7,000 cell phone bill from calling loved ones from the Middle East, she said.

“That didn’t seem right to me and my brother Robbie so we decided to help him pay his bill,” she said.

The pair hosted car washes and yard sales and then started to recycle old cell phones to raise money, she said, adding that the cell phone company eventually forgave the soldier’s phone bill.

“We did some research and found that he wasn’t the only military person who had a problem paying for phone calls,” she said. “We have collected over 750,000 phones since 2004 and are collecting an average of 25,000 phones per month now from drop-off sites all across the country.”

So far the program has raised more than $1 million and has sent thousands of phone cards to troops serving in the Middle East and throughout the world, she said.

“We feel that wherever there are troops deployed, they should have the opportunity to call home for free,” Berquist said.

Donations can be dropped off at the Girl Scout offices at the corner of 11th Street and Warren Avenue in Bremerton, but the best way to get there is to use 13th Street and enter from the back, Torbron said.

Donors also can call Torbron at (360) 373-7409 to make arrangements for pickup as well.

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