Sioux Falls, S.D. Hertha Gross knew there had to be a use for the old cell phones people toss out when they move on to newer models.
She was bothered by the waste, but particularly disturbed because she knew of elderly people who couldn't afford cell phones but whose lives could depend on quick calls for help.
So when she read about a cell phone recycling program in another state, Gross hatched her own plan.
With help from fellow members of TRIAD, a group of law officers and senior citizens that works on safety issues for the elderly in Hughes, Stanley and Sully counties, people 60 and older in the Pierre area now are connecting to a new program.
They are given surplus cell phones they can use to dial 911 in emergencies.
Nearly four dozen cell phones have been given to people in the Pierre area since the free program was launched in late February, said Bill Van Duzer, district supervisor of adult services and aging for the state Social Services Department.
The agency is a collection point for people who want to donate their old cell phones, which are reprogrammed to call only 911 and cannot be used for incoming calls.
Eighty-four-year-old Ed Opp recently suffered a heart attack at his home in Pierre. His son immediately got him a cell phone in case his health takes a turn for the worse.
And the concept has worked well for other programs such as domestic violence shelters, said Hughes County Sheriff Mike Leidholt. The phones can be used to report any sort of problem.
"We want people to take them in their vehicles when they travel," Leidholt said.
But the main benefit is peace of mind.
"The idea is ... here is my little caretaker," Gross said. "If something happens, I can just push that button."
The free cell phones generally are available only to elderly people with health problems. But the goal is to expand it to others, such as those with disabilities, Leidholt said.