Boston For all the billions of dollars being spent on the war in Iraq, 14-year-old Brittany Bergquist is surprised that the U.S. military doesn't do what she and her little brother are doing: helping soldiers phone home free.
"I'm kind of happy that they didn't supply them," she said, "because we've always wanted to do something for the soldiers."
With $14 from their piggy banks, she and 12-year-old brother Robbie started Cell Phones for Soldiers. In less than nine months, the organization has provided $250,000 worth of prepaid calling cards to American soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.
They raise money by collecting old cellular phones and selling them to companies that refurbish them for resale.
It all started in April, when the family heard about a Massachusetts soldier who ran up $7,600 in cell phone charges calling home from Iraq. T-Mobile forgave much of the bill. But Brittany and Robbie figured there must be other soldiers, including a cousin of theirs, who are stationed in Iraq and want to call home more often but cannot afford it.
The Bergquist kids pooled their money and got friends to kick in $7 more. They opened a bank account at South Shore Savings Bank, which was so impressed it contributed $500. Yard sales followed, along with newspaper articles and TV interviews. Hundreds of schools and organizations, from Hawaii to Georgia, have started local chapters and become drop-off centers for used cell phones.
"It's hard doing everything," said Brittany, an eighth-grader from the suburb of Norwell. "But it doesn't matter to us. We think about how hard the soldiers work every day and they don't have a choice to stop."
Last week, the IRS granted Cell Phones for Soldiers nonprofit status, meaning contributions to the cause are tax-deductible.