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Cell Phones for Soldiers - Island lounges hosting cell phone drive for local and national military charities

July 10, 2014
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

What all started as some simple summer cleaning over the weekend turned into a month-long drive and collection for both local and national foundations that help our U.S. soldiers, overseas troops and veterans. Local bartender Maria Mapstone, mixologist extraordinaire for The Mermaid and Valerie's lounges of Fort Myers Beach, was cleaning up some drawers when she stumbled upon some old, outdated cell phones.

"I knew that I couldn't do anything with them cell phones become so outdated so quickly now and we all have them lying around, not sure what to do with them. I thought it would be great to donate them to the Cell Phones for Soldiers organization, and when I ran it by Scott and Kathy (Van Selow, owners of The Mermaid), they thought it would be a great idea to host a drive all month long through Labor Day, collecting phones for the cause at both Valerie's and The Mermaid," Maria said. "The foundation is a nonprofit group dedicated to providing cost-free communication services to active-duty military members and veterans. It's a great way to turn something unwanted into something so great for our troops."

Everyone is encouraged to dig up those old, dusty cell phones that haven't been used in ages (you all know you have at least one somewhere), and bring them into either of the local establishments throughout the month.

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Some simple summer cleaning turned into a month-long cell phone collection, as The Mermaid and Valerie’s Lounge bartender Maria Mapstone is spearheading the local drive to collect pre-owned and unwanted cell phones for the Cell Phones for Soldiers foundation, a non-profit charity group that refurbishes old cell phones, turning the proceeds into calling cards for U.S. troops and veterans. Photo by MELISSA SCHNEIDER.

"We have donation boxes set up at both bars. So many pass by at least one of the bars daily, it's simple to just stop in and drop off your old, unwanted cell phones, knowing they'll then be given some good use again."

As a final celebration on Labor Day, one last chance for locals to get their old phones into the collection box(es), The Mermaid and Valerie's Lounge staff will host a big gathering, featuring a 50/50 raffle, where proceeds will go to a local foundation dedicated to helping on-leave U.S. soldiers.

"Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 1, we're going to host a 50/50 raffle, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., where half of the funds will go to the local Operation Open Arms organization, a great foundation that sets up special excursion packages for soldiers on leave and their families," Maria said. "We'll pull the winning ticket at 5 p.m. that day. It's just another way of giving back to those who fight and who have fought for us and for our freedom."

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That day, also look forward to some great drink specials, as well as possibly some live music and more. Stay tuned to the Beach Bulletin for further details on the collection party as they develop. In the meantime, rifle through those old junk drawers, shelves, under the couch, wherever, and get those old, dead phones into one of the lounges' collection boxes soon you don't have to wait until the Labor Day celebration to bring it/them in!

Why your cell phone donation matters

Did you know that American servicemen and women deployed overseas don't have an affordable way to call loved ones back home? Many veterans need assistance, but often don't know where to seek help. Cell Phones for Soldiers aims to help alleviate those issues.

The donation of a gently-used mobile phone may seem small, but it actually makes a big difference. The group's mission is to provide cost-free communication tools to active-duty military members and assist veterans as they transition into post-combat life. With the help of the community, Cell Phones for Soldiers can complete that mission. The money received from the recycling of cell phones is used to purchase international calling cards for active-duty military deployed overseas to connect with their friends and family back home.

Although all mobile phones are accepted, those donating are asked to submit gently used phones: non-cracked screens, not much wear or tear.

Since 2004, Cell Phones for Soldiers has provided more than 204 million minutes of free talk time; mails approximately 7,500 calling cards each week; and recycled more than 11 million cell phones, reducing the impact on landfills, all while helping U.S. troops and veterans. Visit

About Operation Open Arms

The 501-c3 Operation Open Arms charity, founded by Capt. John "GiddyUp" Bunch, is a nationally acclaimed military outreach program that not only sets up on-leave soldiers and their families with fabulous week-long destination vacations (thanks to sponsors and local resorts, lodges, fishing charters, restaurants and more), but since 2013, the local organization dedicates itself to the care and treatment of PTSD, as well.

Since 2005, our local, beautiful paradise of Southwest Florida has become one of the nation's most popular leave destinations for U.S. troops and for good reason. Those serving in combat or foreign duty stations can visit Southwest Florida and enjoy R&R benefits free of charge thanks to the Operation Open Arms' network of local sponsors of the charity. To date, the organization has provided charitable resources for more than 1,900 U.S. troops and their families since its founding.

The group's mission statement is simple:?"To provide U.S. service men and women visiting Southwest Florida every conceivable benefit during their two-week combat leave or return from a foreign duty station."

For further information on Operation Open Arms, or to help with its mission, visit, email or find the organization on Facebook.



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