Lion Burger satisfies countless stomachs, club’s fundraising needs

CHILLICOTHE — During fair week, the Chillicothe Evening Lions Club hangs its hat on a sandwich so popular it’s become an attraction unto itself.

The Lion Burger — a half-pound double cheeseburger stacked high with sauce, pickles, lettuce, onion and tomato — is reason enough for some fairgoers to step foot onto the grounds. For the Lions Club, the burger represents a chargrilled boon to its fundraising efforts.

All of the proceeds from the Lions booth go to help support 17 local and international charities, several of which are tied to the club’s philanthropic focus — sight conservation.

The Lions collect used eyeglasses at the fair as part of a year-round campaign that brings in an average of 3,000 to 4,000 pairs annually. They’re cleaned at the Ohio State University and then distributed in Central and South America. The club estimates it has collected more than 100,000 pairs and raised more than $1 million during the course of its 87-year history.

The Chillicothe Evening Lions Club was chartered in 1924. Club members first served food at the fair in 1946, and a permanent booth was built two years later.

The club has 82 members and devotes more than 900 man-hours to its booth during the fair.

“We sell an awful lot of (Lion Burgers) and I do the cooking in the evenings, so I can attest to that,” club President Emmitt Hempstead said.

Hempstead said the booth cooks about 100 pounds of beef each day, which would amount to 200 Lion Burgers. But the menu is more than one sandwich, no matter how popular that one sandwich might be. Members also offer regular hamburgers and cheeseburgers, hot dogs, eggs for breakfast and various other items.

Mike Hathaway, a club member, conceded the Lion Burger has some similarities to a certain famous double-decker burger served by a popular fast food chain.

“We had the idea first,” Hathaway said, before backpedaling a bit. “OK, I can’t say that for sure.”

Those who pass by the Lions booth cannot only smell the Lion Burger being grilled, they can hear it being sold. Every time a customer buys one, the Lions ring a bell.

In something of an ironic twist, as much as Hempstead touts the burger, he’s never actually eaten one. He has a sensitivity to gluten, so he can’t eat the bun.

A Former president will visit Lions International

President Carter, to visit LionsJust days after President Obama called on citizens to write to soldiers, help in soup kitchens and devote time to assist others, former President Jimmy Carter will come to Oak Brook to continue his long legacy of service.

On Tuesday, Jan. 27, Carter will visit Lions Clubs International headquarters to dedicate a “Gift of Sight” bronze sculpture, which is a gift from The Carter Center, a not-for-profit group working to advance human rights.

Since Carter is a longtime Lion, the statue is a thank-you to the organization for its latest donation of more $203 million for international sight programs and research through its SightFirst initiative.

Al Brandel, president of Lions Clubs International, said it was easy to convince Carter to travel to Oak Brook.

“I didn’t have to twist his arm,” he said with a laugh.

Brandel said most of the $203 million was raised by local Lions Clubs throughout the world, including groups in Bloomingdale, Glen Ellyn and Naperville. Lions Clubs International is the world’s largest service club organization with 1.3 million members.

“We are so proud of the clubs we have around the world doing things in their own communities that sometimes don’t even come to our attention,” Brandel said.

While Lions Clubs serve their communities in whatever way they see fit – rebuilding after disasters, helping needy families during the holidays – the group also has a long history of working to prevent and reverse blindness.

Brandel said the club forged a partnership with The Carter Center in 1996 to fight river blindness, which is caused by infection.

“It was just a marriage made in heaven” Brandel said. “We have almost totally eliminated river blindness in South America and now our focus will be on Africa.”

The life-size sculpture Carter will dedicate Tuesday depicts a child leading a man who lost his sight to river blindness.

Carter’s dedication corresponds with a two-day symposium that runs Monday and Tuesday at the club’s Oak Brook headquarters. Representatives from organizations and governments worldwide will gather to discuss youth development and blindness prevention.

Brandel said the event attracted attention of major not-for-profit groups, including The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Carter’s visit, he said, will help the initiatives gain more visibility.

“The attention we bring to ourselves and our good works will not only increase our membership but improve the communities we are serving,” Brandel said. “It is a synergy of us all getting together and giving something bigger and better to the people we serve.”

Big coin needed to ship medical supplies

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Anyone who shipped off a parcel to family or friends this past holiday season knows it can be costly to get gifts to their destinations.

Langley Lions Club member Ray Tremblay knows only too well the difficulties of shipping items abroad, only his gifts are the size of shipping containers and the gifts are medical supplies Canadians no longer need.

Thanks to generous donations, another shipping container full of supplies are ready to be sent off to Honduras to help some of the poorest communities in the world.
But the Lions needs public help to cover the transportation costs of $8,500. Tremblay said that’s the only hold-up.

This is the fourth shipment Tremblay has overseen and the second one leaving from Langley. It all started with Lions collecting about $60,000 in school supplies which were delivered in 2002, helping about 13,000 kids. Children there can’t attend school is they can’t afford school supplies.

While the education materials were cherished, the Lions, including Tremblay, who went down to Honduras saw that the medical system was critically ill and started collecting supplies and equipment.

In a handful of undisclosed locations, the club has squirreled away used hospital and retirement home beds, computers, cast-off medical equipment, and much more.

“We have all kinds of stuff in hospitals here that is thrown away,” Tremblay noted.

A couple of medical/dental shipments, each containing donations worth more than six figures, have already been sent to South America, and given to hospitals, health clinics and even a fire department. (Tremblay is a retired firefighter).

The Lions have sent a used ambulance, packed to the ceiling with supplies.

“The ambulance has been converted into a medical clinic, a mobile clinic,” he explained.

When some Lower Mainland dentists merged their practices into one building, they donated all the gear from their former offices.

As word spread throughout B.C., health-related groups and organizations, such as retirement homes, would offer up their surplus goods.

Tremblay said once a person has been to a country like Honduras and seen the conditions, they can’t ignore the need.

“You come back a changed person,” he commented.

The Lions have provided what amounts to life-altering supplies to impoverished people where there is little or no social safety net like Canada’s.

“If you help somebody – a child or a person – it doesn’t matter whether they live across the street or across town or in another country,” he said.

The Langley Lions Club receives help in its efforts from the Lions Multiple District 19, the regional organization that includes the 64 clubs of B.C. and the Pacific Northwest U.S. as well as Lower Mainland hospitals and seniors homes that donate old equipment and supplies. CARE, the international relief organization, has a long history of working with local Lions Clubs and helps ensure the materials are distributed when they arrive in South America.