For the past two years, residents in the Lady Lake area have helped provide more than 1 million prepaid calling-card minutes to soldiers serving overseas.
This year, Lady Lake Police Chief Ed Nathanson, who initiated the “Help Them Call Home” campaign locally, would like to see even more.
“Once again this year we are going to come together and ask everyone to consider donating their unwanted … cell phones to the program,” Nathanson said. “Every phone will be turned into a prepaid calling card that will be distributed to the troops.”
The “Help Them Call Home” campaign was started by the family of Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Clay, who died in December 2005, while fighting in Iraq.
Following their soldier’s death, Clay’s family began collecting cell phones, which they recycled and turned into phone cards for troops serving overseas.
Every cell phone that is collected and recycled is turned into a 250-minute prepaid calling card.
“We started out with an e-mail asking people to help me collect 100 phones,” said Clay’s brother-in-law Jodie Butler, who is also the founder and CEO of “Help Them Call Home.” “There has since been $5,000 worth of calling cards sent overseas.”
The campaign’s success is strictly due to the generosity of people throughout the world, Butler said, especially those in Lady Lake.
“There is nowhere in the country that has embraced this like Lady Lake,” Butler said. “It has just been unreal how (well they’ve done).”
It is an effort Nathanson said he is honored and proud to be part of.
“It’s just humbling to know that we dared to make a difference,” Nathanson said. “These folks put their lives on the line for us every day.”
Although Lady Lake alone has collected more than 5,000 phones, if Nathanson has his way, this year they will collect even more.
“This year our goal is to exceed 2,000 phones for this year’s (anniversary) event,” he said.
Nathanson said he encourages all residents to not only donate their old cell phones — the Lady Lake Police Department has a donation box in the main lobby — but to start their own collection groups.
“It’s like everything else, it takes a million drops of water to fill the bucket but until you put in the first drop it will never get filled,” he said.
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