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Old Cell Phones Get New Calling

Social services: Programmed to dial 911, thousands of the donated devices will be given to battered women for use in emergencies.


A local congressman's office has collected 1,000 used cell phones as part of a national campaign to donate the phones to battered women for use in emergencies.

The phones have been reprogrammed to dial 911 and local shelters, providing instant access to help in an emergency.

Monday, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) and officials from battered-women's groups held a news conference to announce their success. The office gathered a fifth of the 5,000 phones collected over six months in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

"Even if a battered woman doesn't need to make an emergency call, just having it can give her a sense of relief and some peace," Royce said.

Local organizer for the effort is the Stop the Abuse Against Families Foundation, based in Beverly Hills. Its executive director, Robin Sax Katzenstein, said the cell phones already have proved useful when distributed at shelters.

"Sometimes a woman will find herself in a situation where the abuser has pulled the phone wire out of the wall in anger," Sax Katzenstein said. "This cell phone might very well save her life."

Diana Spitz, executive director of Kathy's House, a San Juan Capistrano women's shelter, said when she first learned of the program she wanted to distribute phones as soon as possible to women she knew who had suffered spousal abuse.

"It lets them know that they are not left defenseless," she said.

The campaign began nationally two years ago through a collaboration by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Motorola and the Wireless Foundation (the philanthropic arm of the wireless communications industry). Motorola is paying to have the telephones brought up to par and will pay for minimal phone service. Motorola estimates that about 24 million unused cell phones could be donated.

So far the national program, "Call to Protect," has collected more than 30,000 phones.

The Stop the Abuse foundation took the campaign to Royce's office because he's the sponsor of both the California law against stalkers and a similar law at the national level.

Many victims, the activists said, need the cell phones in their cars to protect them from stalkers.

The women are not charged for emergency air time, but the phones work only for specially formatted numbers.

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