AUBURN CA – For nearly 100 years, the Lions Clubs International has worked on projects designed to prevent blindness, restore eyesight and improve eyecare for hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
Closer to home, its program for helping needy people in obtaining prescription eyeglasses plays a low-key role in helping give many the gift of better sight during tough economic times for some.
Individual clubs have their own programs and some are seeing an increase in need as jobless numbers have swelled while other clubs are not.
The Auburn 49er Lions club averaged 18 referrals a year in 2009 and 2010 but that increased to 25 in 2011, said eyeglasses coordinator Kelly Post. This month, there have been seven calls for glasses.
Post said that a number of reasons could be responsible for the increase. Until two years ago, Medi-Cal’s welfare medical program paid for eye exams and glasses. Now it pays for just the eye exams, she said.
Some of the calls could be attributed to an increase in word of mouth among people needing eyeglass assistance. Others are coming because of referrals from groups assisting the poor like Hope, Help and Healing and The Gathering Inn, Post said.
“More people are homeless, more are out of a job,” Post said. “And there are more parolees.”
At the Loomis Lions Club, Vision Assistance Chair
No spike in Loomis
Jack Morris said the group has handled four aid requests since July, with one of the callers finding another way to replace their broken frames.
In Auburn, the Host Lions group had fielded six requests since the end of December – which is depleting the limited amount of referrals that the Lions can send to an optometrist, said eyeglass chairman Dennis Lloyd. The group has the ability to handle about 20 referrals a year, he said.
Dr. Mark Starr, county Health & Human Services deputy director, said Placer has not had an eyeglass program for the needy but will steer them in the direction of the Lions on an informal basis. The county will provide emergency medical eyecare but doesn’t provide eyeware, Starr said.
Lloyd said the number of requests seemed to be linked to an increase in referrals from the county.
“We can handle a limited number of people but we’re not part of the welfare system,” Lloyd said.
Morris said that many Loomis Club members felt a worsening economy and lack of jobs would result in a substantial increase in requests for vision assistance. But there has been no spike in requests. The Loomis Lions normally handle three or four a year, he said.
One of the recent requests had been forwarded by another Lions Club and another by a welfare-related organization, Morris said.
Morris said that different communities have different rates of awareness on the Lions vision program and that could have something to do with a lack of increased demand.
“I think there are many needy persons but I’m thinking they have other ways – paying for them themselves or with insurance, for instance,” Morris said.
He added that the granting of funds for an exam and new glasses – which averaged $190 last year – is not automatic. The club needs to confirm the person’s identification and then move forward on an eye exam. If the optometrist says glasses are required, Morris can authorize the purchase.
“After that, there are no further requirements – they don’t need to come and talk to the club,” Morris said. “But most of them find a way to send us a card.”
The Lions have gained worldwide recognition for their work to improve sight and prevent blindness. That work includes recycling eyeglasses, supporting Lions Eye Banks that provide eye tissue for sight-saving surgeries, and screening the vision of hundreds of thousands of people every year.
The effort goes back to 1925, when Helen Keller called on the Lions organization to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”
“It’s a very rewarding thing and we Lions are proud of it,” Morris said.