The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday March 21st

Orange County equips low-income residents with free phones

Since the partnership began in March 2014, the Orange County Department of Social Services and SafeLink have issued over 3,500 cell phones to Orange County residents.

The program in Orange County currently provides unlimited texting and 500 minutes for the first four months after registration, with 350 minutes per month thereafter. The phones are paid for by the Universal Service Fund.

Robert Gilmore, human services supervisor for the Orange County Department of Social Services’ employment services unit, said the partnership began in a parking lot.

“One day there was a car parked in the Social Services parking lot handing out phones to individuals out of a trunk.” Gilmore said. “We took this wonderful resource out of the parking lot and into the world of social services to help low-income families become connected to employment.”

The parking lot resource was a representative of SafeLink Wireless, which provides families with cellphones and other electronics as a part of the Wireless Lifeline benefits program, which was created in 1985.

William Ditto, director, leader and executor of the Lifeline Assistance Group, said the partnership has improved awareness for the free phone service.

“Before, we had agents scattered everywhere across the county and now we are able to actually be located inside a place where many people need our service,” Ditto said.

Through the partnership with SafeLink, the Orange County Department of Social Services has been able to expand its opportunities for unemployed people in the area.

“Through these free phones, they will have access now to employment — to call employers to follow up on job applications, to allow employers to contact them to set up interviews and to stay in touch with life,” Gilmore said. “They can also call the education system to see how their children are doing in school — we recognize that communication is a crucial part of life.”

Ditto said adding internet service will let people use the phones as wireless hotspots and to check emails, which will help them professionally.

“We aren’t giving out iPhones and Galaxies, but this new addition will keep the ball moving forward and get people into the workforce,” Ditto said.

Ditto said it can sometimes be challenging to convince people that the phones are truly free and available, but the rewards of finally issuing a phone to someone in need were endless.

“Me personally, I’ve probably gotten 500 to 600 hugs from people who this has impacted greatly,” Ditto said. “It is going to change their life — they haven’t spoken to their family in years and they wonder how they are going to get a job if they can’t even afford a phone.”

Tim Carey, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology at UNC, said the free phones can start a positive cycle.

“With every free phone, more people will come in contact with employment and hopefully become employed and eventually this cycle will bring more people into the local workforce, which helps our community,” Carey said.

To receive a free phone, Safelink Wireless will be available from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on certain Mondays at the Department of Social Services offices in Chapel Hill and Hillsborough. Those wishing to register for the program must bring a photo ID and proof of a federal benefit.



The Daily Tar Heel's 2023 Black History Month Edition

Special Print Edition

Games & Horoscopes

Print Edition Games Archive