Lions battle against preventable blindness

Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center handles 500,000 donations annually
BY JENNIFER KOHLHEPP Staff Writer
Individuals across the country annually drop about 6 million pairs of glasses into local Lions Clubs’ refurbished mailboxes, but not many donors know where those used spectacles go.

JENNIFER KOHLHEPP Allentown Lions Club President Robert Strovinsky sorts glasses with various prescriptions at the club’s eyeglass recycling center in West Trenton where they are readied for distribution to needy groups and individuals in other countries.
Lions Club International has nine approved eyeglass recycling centers operating in the Unites States. The New Jersey Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center at the Katzenbach School in West Trenton handles approximately 500,000 of those donations annually. The center cleans, neutralizes and determines the prescription of the used eyeglasses and then stores and packages them for distribution to needy groups and individuals in other countries.

Lions Club members from throughout New Jersey empty their yellow and blue mailboxes throughout the year and take the donated eyewear to the center. For example, the Allentown Lions Club has a collection box in front of the municipal building on Church Street that garners between 1,200 and 1,500 glasses each year, according to Secretary Dave Strovino.

Glasses collected by Lions Club members in refurbished mailboxes across the state wind up at the club’s eyeglass recycling center.
The Lions accept all types of used eyeglasses and sunglasses, prescription and nonprescription, for children and adults. Donations of reading glasses are particularly useful for workers who have to perform close-up tasks. Sunglasses are sought for people living near the equator, especially those with cataracts.

“People in Third World countries and impoverished

countries get the opportunity to have good vision,” Allentown Lions Club member Rich Holman said. “It’s a shame that we can’t use recycled eyeglasses in this country.”

Due to legal constraints against dispensing used prescriptive devices in the United States, most of the recycled glasses are distributed in developing countries where individuals and families are frequently pushed into deepening poverty because of their inabilities to see well and afford glasses. According to the Lions Club, at least 13 million children (ages 5-15) and 45 million working-age adults (ages 16-49) are affected with these inabilities globally.

Allentown Lions Club members use lensometers to determine the prescriptions of donated glasses.
“This is a great way to recycle and help people in need in other countries,” Allentown Lions Club member Tim Stolzenberger said.

Members of local chapters of Lions Clubs volunteer at the eyeglass recycling centers to minimize operating costs. The New Jersey center also reduces costs by giving residents at the Adult Diagnostic Treatment Center in Avenel and the Edna Mahon Correctional Facility in Clinton the opportunity to process donated glasses.

Most of the equipment and other goods used in the recycling process at the center, such as shipping boxes, are donations from Lions Clubs and area businesses, which also keeps costs down.

Biff Searing, the Allentown Lions Club member who chairs the recycled eyeglass project, said eyesight conservation is the Lions Club’s primary focus. He said theAllentown club has raised funds for and donated two lensometers to the center. These machines determine the prescription of the lenses.

Since eyesight comes first, the Lions process all types of eyewear, including those with 14-karat gold frames. However, if a pair of gold glasses is damaged and cannot be processed, the center sells the gold to further offset operating costs. The same goes for all recyclable materials, including damaged metal chains that the center cannot process.

Lions and other optical mission groups organize teams of eye care professionals and volunteers to travel to developing countries all over the world to conduct vision screenings and dispense the recycled glasses free of charge to children and adults with impaired vision.

In their battle against preventable blindness, New Jersey Lions also work with companies like Lenscrafters to get underprivileged children in local communities glasses at a fraction of the price they would regularly pay. New Jersey Lions also sponsor an eye-mobile that travels to various community events across the state providing free eye exams, including a screening for glaucoma.