Are you one of the 150 million Americans who need corrective eyewear? About 45 percent of us need glasses, contact lenses or surgery to improve our vision. And for those who wear glasses or contacts daily for reading or driving, it’s hard to imagine getting by without them. Still, many Washington patients simply can’t afford the prescription eyewear they need — and that often means going without.
Frank was one of those patients. He was scheduled for cataract surgery at Harborview Medical Center when his glasses went missing; without them, he couldn’t drive or get around easily. But buying temporary replacements would have posed a financial hardship. Fortunately, a new community program stepped in to help.
For decades, Lions Clubs around the Pacific Northwest have collected eyeglasses to donate to people in developing countries. But in the past, state laws prevented those glasses from being easily distributed in Washington. After a 2012 amendment to the Good Samaritan Act made local distribution more practical, the University-Ballard Lions Club began work on a partnership with the UW Medicine Eye Institute. Their partnership, called the Lions Gift of Sight Program, launched in 2018 with an initial donation of 500 pairs of glasses from the Northwest Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center (NWLERC), plus continued support from the Ballard Lions Club Foundation/Wilson Trust.
Qualifying patients are referred to Eyes on James, the UW Medicine Eye Institute’s optical shop at Harborview Medical Center. After an eye exam, optometrists check their supply of donated glasses. If no glasses with a matching prescription are available, specialty lenses can be made.
At his appointment, Frank tried a few pairs of glasses that fit his prescription. “It was amazing that there was one that worked out,” he says. “I couldn’t believe I could read the sign across the road! They worked right up until my surgery.”
Frank’s cataract surgery was a success, and today, he only needs reading glasses. In fact, he’s thinking it might be time to donate his prescription glasses back to the Lions Gift of Sight Program, so they can benefit someone else.
Helping people like Frank is what inspired Fred Minifie, president of the University-Ballard Lions Club, to create the program. “This opens a door,” says Minifie. “The program makes it possible to provide help for the truly needy.”
Jack Jolley, who serves with Minifie on the UW Medicine Eye Institute’s Community Action Board, contributes to UW Medicine via the Lions Gift of Sight Program. A lifetime wearer of glasses himself, he’s delighted to help the Eye Institute provide eyewear to people who otherwise couldn’t afford it.
“I consider myself very lucky to be an Eye Institute patient,” says Jolley. “I hope the Lions Gift of Sight Program helps the people who receive glasses — and not just in the physical sense. I hope they know that people in the community care.”
If you’d like to donate your used eyeglasses, prescription sunglasses or reading glasses, you can drop them off or mail them to the UW Medicine Eye Institute, Attn.: Lions Gift of Sight Program, 908 Jefferson Street, 7th Floor, Seattle, WA 98104.