Giving their "strength, time and energy" to the Jewish community is a vitally important part of giving tzedakah for Fran and Larry Chelder. The 70-year-old couple are heading a drive for the fourth year for used cell phones for domestic-abuse victims and the frail elderly.
"We just do," said Fran. "We're people of action."
An initiative of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the drive is sponsored by its Mitzvah Projects Task Force, and will run until March 31.
Drop-off locations at synagogues and Federation offices throughout the five-county area will be accepting the phones, which must be in a plastic bag, along with batteries and chargers. The phones will then be reprogrammed by Verizon for 9-1-1 use only.
The Chelders coordinate the drive with volunteers at the sites, pick up the phones, pack them in boxes, label them with Verizon's address, and store them in their garage until Federal Express picks them up. Nearly 2,000 phones have been collected each year, and the Chelders are looking for an increase in 2006.
"There are more collection sites this year," pointed out Fran. "People don't want to throw away their cell phones, and are so happy to get rid of them for a good cause.
"Children and spouses in abusive situations must have advocates – someone to take care of them," she added, "and the frail elderly need to be able to feel safe in their homes and feel secure when they go out. Verizon has told us that they never have enough phones – no matter how many are collected."
"The phones are lifesavers," said Larry. "We heard from Verizon about an abuser breaking into a home, and a 3-year old calling 9-1-1 to say that 'Mommy was being hurt.'
"However, I don't ever want to know or be known to a recipient," he continued – "and didn't even when I had an opportunity. That's what Jewish law teaches," said the active member of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park, whose father was an Orthodox cantor, and who describes their own home as "traditional."
Married for 50 years, the couple are the parents of three and the grandparents of four. Fran Chelder was raised in the Feltonville neighborhood of Philadelphia; her husband grew up in Chester and attended a yeshiva in New York when he was a boy.
They have owned Larry's Hardware in Gilbertsville since 1956. Fran said she worked in the store with her husband "once her children were older." In 2002, Larry retired; she still works part-time.
According to both of them, they are "compatible" in their work, volunteer efforts and leisure, "and just all around enjoy each other's company." They also volunteer at the Federation-sponsored Mitzvah Food Pantry at Beth Sholom.
Being together with their extended family and celebrating Jewish holidays – whether in the big sukkah they build or sitting down to Passover seders in their home – tops their list of good times.
Larry admits the boxes filled with phones are heavy (and getting heavier), and that they are having most of the phones delivered to them this year for boxing and shipping.
Nevertheless, said the couple: "As long as we can help, we will."
For more information about donating phones and drop-off sites, call 215-832-0821 or log on to: www.jewishphilly.org.