Free cellphones in Reserve this Friday

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 8, 2011



LAPLACE – Some St. John the Baptist Parish residents who receive assistance from certain government agencies could be eligible for free cellular phone service through a Florida telecommunications company that will be in the area registering applicants Friday.

With the help of representatives from the parish Department of Health and Human Services, Wireless For Hope will be handing out free cellphones at Belle Point Park, 1621 Jackson Ave. in Reserve, to qualifying residents from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday. Elois Joseph, the director of the Health and Human Services Department, said the organization has about 250 phones to give away but added the parish has requested more.

“We are hoping to get more because we have a feeling demand for the phones will be high,” Joseph said. “There are quite a few residents of the area who will qualify, and obviously we don’t want to disappoint anyone.”

Ellie L. Falbo, a spokeswoman for Wireless for Hope, said the cellphones, which have been recycled and refurbished, will be equipped with caller ID, voicemail, call waiting, long distance and free 911 emergency calls.

“They are recycled, but they are decent quality phones,” Falbo said. “They certainly are not going to be the ‘boxy’ phones of the older generation.”

Falbo said the phones have 100 free minutes per month with the option to roll over unused minutes to the next month. She said the phones will also feature a text messaging service, which is often much quicker than a regular phone call.

“Being able to communicate is a vital need for everyone and a right that we all deserve,” Falbo said. “It is truly gratifying to see how grateful the recipients are when they qualify. It fills a need in the community.”

Falbo said the company, which is a branch of the Florida-based Affordable Wireless, began distributing phones in the New Orleans area late last year, and representatives have been working their way out to the rest of the state since then.

She said the phones, as well as the costs of the services, are paid for with aid from telecom service bureaus. The company receives support from the federal Lifeline program but absolutely no government funding.

Falbo added the group normally works with government agencies to determine how many residents are in need and where they are living.

Joseph said the parish decided on the Reserve location because it is a central part of the parish that anyone can easily get to. She said all residents from the parish are eligible to sign up for the program to see if they qualify.

To qualify for the program, one household member must certify that they receive aid from at least one of the following government assistance programs:  Food Stamps, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Low-Income Home Energy Program, Supplemental Security Income, Federal Public Housing Assistance, National School Lunch Program (free program only) or the Supplemental Nutrition Assist Program. 

Falbo said identification is required, and it must include a current physical address. Only one phone per household.

For more information about the program, visit www.wirelessfor