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Service club calls for old cell phones

Mark Roberts had three usable cell phones languishing in the garage of his Orinda home.

"I just hated the idea of throwing them away ... I didn't know what to do with them, so I was just waiting for somebody to tell me about an organization that would put 'em to good use," he said.

When a colleague at St. Mary's College in Moraga told him about a program that seeks cell phones for women who are in danger of abuse, Roberts had found what he sought.

"I just felt very good that these things might help a woman ... in a battering situation get help when she needs it quickly," said Roberts, the college's major gifts officer.

Nationwide, an estimated 24 million cell phones are no longer in use, said Joe Della Posta, a spokesman for the nonprofit Wireless Foundation. It is a cosponsor of the Donate a Phone program that collects them for distribution to domestic violence victims and organizations helping them.

The program distributes phones through domestic violence prevention organizations and police departments. It reprograms the phones to dial 911 and usually one or two nonemergency numbers, such as a domestic violence shelter.

The Orinda Junior Women's Club has collected more than 70 phones from its members, St. Mary's staff members, the Lamorinda Sunrise Rotary Club, the Orinda Rotary Club and others.

People often discard cell phones when they change to a new provider or upgrade to a newer, smaller or more technologically advanced model, said Della Posta, who is based in Syracuse, N.Y.

Roberts recalled that, more than a year ago, he and his wife switched to digital cell phones, discarding another pair they had been using, including one that had replaced a mobile phone that dated back to the early 1990s.

"We had three perfectly usable but unused cell phones, and I just hated the idea of adding them to a landfill," he said.

Julie Whitsitt, vice president of the Orinda Junior Women's Club, had five unused cell phones.

"They were just out-of-date. We purchased new service, so we got new phones with the service," she said.

Della Posta had two discarded phones in his basement after he switched providers and got new phones from them.

"I just put them there thinking I could do something with them ... because I knew that they worked and I thought that, at some point, there could be some use for them," he said.

He gave them to Donate a Phone, which has received more than 150,000 phones from companies, civic groups, Boy Scout troops, churches, schools and others around the country since October 1999, he said.

Motorola, the giant cell phone and chip manufacturer, has donated more than 17,000 phones. Seventy-four wireless service providers have donated free emergency air time to domestic violence victims, according to the Wireless Foundation.

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