Helping those in need

Swift Current Lions Club members stand with a shipment of about 2,600 old eyeglasses, June 18. From left to right, Larry O'Donnell (club treasurer), Wes Vibert (eyeglass project chair), and Jim Parsons (club president).

Community support for a long-time project of the Swift Current Lions Club continues to provide the gift of sight to people in poor countries.

In late June the Swift Current Lions Club shipped about 2,600 old eyeglasses to an eyeglass recycling centre in Calgary.

“That puts us at about 28,000 glasses that we've shipped,” Swift Current Lions Club President Jim Parsons said.

Club members have been carrying out this project in the Swift Current area for over 15 years, and it has been well supported in the community.

“The response is tremendous,” he noted. “We've got four places in Swift Current that collect for us and it's just great. We're taking any kind of glasses, like reading glasses, sunglasses, broken glasses. You name it, we take it.”

In most cases glasses with broken or missing parts can also be recycled, but there are some exceptions.

“Probably the ones that we wouldn't want are ones that's been speckled, like guys that weld and they get sparks that meld them and put spots on them,” he said. “They're not much good, but other than that, we can pretty well take anything.”

Three optical dispensers in Swift Current – Optical Image, Vision Care, and Walmart Vision Centre – participate in the project.

“Probably once a month we get half a garbage bag full from each of them,” he said. “So it's amazing.”

There is also a Lions Club drop box in the Swift Current Mall where people can drop off their used glasses. Club members will empty that box at least once a month and sometimes even every three weeks.

Parsons felt the ongoing awareness in the community is probably still as a result of an awareness campaign carried out by the club a few years ago.

“A few years back we canvassed the city and we dropped off paper bags and stuff,” he said. “So that really was bringing the awareness of the program and then the fact that these glasses will help underprivileged people is near and dear to everybody's heart.”

Each shipment of eyeglasses from Swift Current is transported by Rosenau Transport at no cost to Calgary. The Lions Club appreciates the company's support for the project.

“They have been a very good partners,” he said. “They never hesitate to put them on a pallet and ship them for us. It's just a super relationship. … And they deliver right to the address in Calgary.”

The Swift Current project is part of a broader Lions Clubs International initiative, called the Lions Recycle for Sight program. After collection the glasses are taken to the nearest Lions eyeglass recycling centre, where it is sorted and the prescription of each pair is determined by a lensometer. The glasses are then cleaned and packaged for distribution to developing countries.

The eyeglasses from the Swift Current area are taken to the Canadian Lions Eyeglass Recycling Centre (CLERC) in Calgary. Lions volunteers in the city will process the eyeglasses, and through a partnership with the Calgary Correctional Centre there is also an opportunity for offenders to contribute to society through their work to recycle eyewear.

“I think they do it every Wednesday,” Parsons said about the CLERC volunteers. “They go down to their building and they go through the parts and glasses that they receive, and they process them and catalogue them. The jail still does a few, but this group does about 80 per cent of the glasses that they receive.”

The recycled eyeglasses will be given to people with vision problems during visits by Canadian optometrists to different developing countries around the world.

Over 5.2 million recycled eyeglasses from CLERC have been distributed in 89 countries from July 1, 2003 to Sept. 30, 2018. These eyeglasses have been sent to 35 countries in Africa, 18 countries in South Asia, 12 countries in Central America, 10 countries in South America, eight countries in Eastern Europe, and six countries in the Middle East.

People receive the recycled eyeglasses for free and it can make a real difference to their lives. Improved vision can mean better education for children and for adults an opportunity to be employed.

The World Health Organization estimates that over 150 million people around the world have visual problems as a result of uncorrected refractive errors, which can be addressed through eye examinations and the use of corrective glasses.

The Swift Current Lions Club will continue this project in the Swift Current area, and residents are asked to donate their used eyeglasses to this initiative instead of throwing it away.

The club currently has around 20 members and any new members are always welcome.

“Lions have always been associated primarily with the blind,” he said. “So if you have an interest in that or if you have an interest in servicing the community, you're more than welcome.”

The club’s fundraising efforts help to support the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides program, and another initiative provides monetary support for local families who have unexpected medical expenses.

The club’s main annual fundraiser is a concession stand at Frontier Days, and they also rent out the Lions Hall.

“We do some garage sales too,” he said. “We probably do two garage sales a year. … We're always open to donations in that respect, if people want to give us things that they don't need or want anymore. We'll put them in our garage sale and try and generate some money that way.”

Club members have supper meetings every second and fourth Thursday of the month, except in July and August. For more information about the club and their activities, contact Jim Parsons at 306-741-9716.

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