For the fifth consecutive year, more than 40 cardboard boxes filled with used cell phones sit in the garage of Fran and Larry Chelder. But the couple doesn't mind giving up the space.
The nearly 2,000 donated telephones — wrapped in plastic bags with chargers and batteries — represent another successful community-wide drive that helps victims of domestic abuse. The annual drive began Feb. 1, and concluded on March 31.
Yet for the Chelders — co-chairs of the project — it's a year-round effort that encompasses gearing up with the pre-publicity and winding down with multiple tasks to ensure all's in order.
The Chelders oversee the nuts and bolts, such as coordinating volunteers at nine drop-off sites throughout the five-county region, picking up the boxes, counting the phones, and packing them up for shipping via Federal Express to Verizon. Fran Chelder said that the Tierney Group has underwritten the shipping costs each year.
"We are filling a need in the community," she said.
"We feel this is a very important project, and one we are both committed to. Larry and I," she explained, "were both raised in a strong Jewish tradition that emphasized the importance of tzedakah."
The drive is an initiative of the Mitzvah Projects Task Force — chaired by Peggy Carver and Jerry Frezel — of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Center for Social Responsibility. The Chelders say that no matter how many phones are collected, there are never enough.
Federation's project benefits "Hope Line," an initiative of Verizon Wireless. Various community agencies and organizations also participate in the project. Cell phones that are no longer being used are donated and reprogrammed by Verizon to dial 9-1-1.
For a victim of abuse, these phones that may have otherwise been tossed or disregarded have meant a lifeline for help, a vital link with the outside world and a source of security.
"One primary focus of the Center for Social Responsibility is to reach out and care for people at risk or in need," explained Jessica Charmont, senior mitzvah project planner. "This annual cell-phone drive has helped many victims of abuse, and in many cases, by simply touching a button, lives have been saved."
"Even if we just do a little bit at a time, we can make the world a better place," added Fran Chelder.
For the 70-year-old couple — who recently celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary — that "little bit" has meant quite a lot to members of the community living in fear or isolation.
Fran Chelder said that many in the community know her and her husband from their hardware store, Larry's Hardware, in Gilbertsville since 1956. Although Larry Chelder retired several years ago, his wife still works part-time in the business.
The Chelders have three children and four grandchildren. They are active with Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park, and they also volunteer at Federation's Mitzvah Food Pantry.
"Before the cell-phone drive, Larry and I co-chaired many programs for the community, including the Israeli Chasidic Festival," said Fran Chelder. "We always take on a project that we can work on together."
To learn more, call the Jewish Information and Referral Service at 215-832-0821.