Arguably the largest Lions sponsored eyeglass recycling event ever held occurred on September 25, 2021, when hundreds of members of Lions Clubs International, Lions in Sight of California and Nevada, the San Jose State University Delta Gamma Sorority, and other community service volunteers came together to prepare 118,000 prescription eyeglasses for international medical missions. California State Senator Dave Cortese, California State Assembly Member Alex Lee, San Jose City Council Member Dev Davis, and Brian Bates, VP, San Jose State University each spoke at the event.
The story began in early in 2021 when an anonymous corporate donor approached PCC Bob Stewart, GST coordinator for Lions District 4C6, offering ongoing supplies of very large amounts of used eyeglasses. A condition was that they be recycled and distributed to those
with vision needs outside the United States. The leadership of 4C6 had been seeking an all-district hands-on service opportunity. The immediate response to the donor was “yes.”
Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired was approached and asked for storage space and use of the auditorium. Executive director Karae Lisle said “yes.” Note that in 1953, LCI founder Melvin Jones participated in the groundbreaking ceremonies of the Lions built facility, which 70 years later would become epicenter of this massive community undertaking.
About 70 miles from Vista Center in Vallejo, CA is Lions in Sight of California and Nevada, which collects used eyeglasses from Lions throughout the western part of the United States, cleans and sorts the glasses, and then coordinates international medical missions where the eyeglasses are distributed to the needy. PID Dr. Bill Innaccone, COO of Lions in Sight, was asked if Vista Center could be treated as a satellite location of Lions in Sight for the initial presorting, cleaning, lensometer reading, and packaging of those eyeglasses received by the anonymous corporate donor. The Lions of 4C6 would conduct the work as an all-district hands-on service project. PID Dr Bill presented to his board, who said “yes.”
In April 2021, the initial batch of donated eyeglasses was trucked by Lions to Vista Center from the corporate donor’s warehouse. They weighed 20,000 pounds at the weigh station - 118,000 eyeglasses in total. Similar amounts were to be expected ongoing, every few months. The magnitude and scope of the work at hand now became real. Several ongoing service events would need to be scheduled, with lots and lots of helping hands required.
The GAT leadership of District 4C6 assessed the task as an opportunity with not only service but also leadership and membership implications. The 70-member Delta Gamma sorority of nearby San Jose State University was invited to participate, as well as the staff and clients of Vista Center. Lions also asked their non-Lions friends to help. In this manner, the all-district Lions service project became a hands-on community effort where the young and the old as well as the sight impaired are joined in one like-minded humanitarian service project. Local government officials soon learned of the effort, as did the press. All were invited. The government officials were asked to speak, and a press kit prepared.
The September 25 event was a huge success not only because it is a feel-good story, but because most people dearly desire to be engaged in meaningful community service projects. Press coverage included newspaper, social media, and radio encompassing perhaps 2M people. NBC TV promised they would be at the next event.
Lions who had thought about leaving LCI because of service inactivity expressed that they are now renewed in their Lions purpose. In addition to retention, several non-Lions volunteers are now Lions, and the Delta Gamma sorority is asking about Lions campus club status.
Eyeglass sorting, cleaning, lensometer reading, resorting, and boxing on such a massive scale is complex and requires numerous people taking on leadership skills. Lions leaders of the future were asked to take the necessary leadership roles, and they excelled in their tasks.
Members from 26 Lions clubs including some from outside of 4C6 joined together in selfless hands-on community service in the September 25, 2021 event.
Congratulations, and thank you, to everyone who organized and participated in this wonderful undertaking.