Roanoke Lions Club has a mission to help people gain 20-20 vision

James Vachon (left) and James Coppock of the Roanoke Lions Club prepare to pack up a table-full of about 100 eye glasses in support of the Lions Club’s program to donate glasses to help improve the vision of low-income and poor people.
James Vachon (left) and James Coppock of the Roanoke Lions Club prepare to pack up a table-full of about 100 eye glasses in support of the Lions Club’s program to donate glasses to help improve the vision of low-income and poor people. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published July 7, 2014.

The Roanoke Lions Club is on a mission to help people gain 20-20 vision.

The club is looking for donations of eyeglasses of any type, including sunglasses, but particularly prescription glasses it can then pass on to underprivileged people.

The Roanoke organization is one of several Lions Clubs in Huntington County - and across the state - to participate in the program.

Lion James Coppock says the prescription spectacles are then sent to a lab in Jasper, where optometrists measure them and match them with people who need that prescription. Sunglasses, reading glasses and other types of eyewear are also provided to people.

"There is no charge," Coppock says. "These are all donated, and they're distributed, not only in the United States but other countries that need it."

The Lions' challenge to help the world see better was issued to them many years ago by the celebrated deaf and blind woman, Helen Keller.

"She spoke at a national convention for the Lions, then at the end asked them to be the ‘good knights for sight,'" Coppock explains. "That's where it all started, with the emphasis of the Lions for sight. We do all kinds of things related to sight."

This year alone, the Roanoke chapter has collected around 500 pairs of glasses, most of them deposited in about a dozen drop-off boxes placed in conspicuous locations including optometrists' offices, churches, nursing homes and the Roanoke Public Library.

"I'm after cleaning out everybody's drawers at home and getting rid of their old pairs of glasses so we can put them on somebody who needs them," says Roanoke Lion James Vachon, adding that millions have been helped by the project worldwide.

In keeping with its mission, the Lions have other programs aimed at improving the sight of those who can't afford it, including sending out a team of ophthalmologic surgeons who perform cataract and other eye operations.

"They are able to perform that for literally thousands of people," Coppock says, "at a cost to the Lions of $2.50 each. The doctors donate their time."

The Lions organization also sponsors a dog training school in Michigan for sight companion dogs and operate a Kids Sight program in local preschools. A special camera is used to take pictures of young children between 6 months and 6 years old. The pictures are then used to tell if a child may have a problem and needs to be referred to an eye specialist.

"I run the camera," Vachon says. "You get their attention first to look at the camera. As soon as you get it you get a signal and then take the picture. It catches things like a wandering eye."

Coppock relates a story of one Huntington middle school student whose grades were suffering because he could not see the lessons on the blackboard nor read his textbooks. His mother read the books to him until she became ill.

"The glasses that he needed cost $2,500," Coppock says. "He was in a special ed program but he wasn't ‘slow.' In fact, he was one of the best math students they had, but he just could not keep up. ...

"Two or three Lions clubs went together ... When we took him the glasses and he got to see what things looked like, he was just hopping up and down and was thrilled. Those weren't used glasses; they were made and paid for by the Lions."

The Lions will also accept donations of used cell phones and hearing aids. The phones are reprogrammed to access 911 and distributed to victims of crimes who may be at risk but don't have a telephone.

For more information on any of the Lions Club programs, contact Jim Coppock at 672-3685.

Complete caption: James Vachon (left) and James Coppock of the Roanoke Lions Club prepare to pack up a table-full of about 100 eye glasses in support of the Lions Club’s program to donate glasses to help improve the vision of low-income and poor people in the US and abroad. The club seeks eye wear donations of all types but particularly prescription glasses.