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Giving the gift of sight

Lydia Johnson | Jun 03, 2019

A woman repairs donated eyeglasses.

In 1993, Kiwanian Bob Collison learned that many people in the Philippines desperately needed glasses but couldn’t afford them. So he started the Save Old Spectacles program at his club in Beaverton, Oregon, to collect glasses and send them overseas.
Two years later, the program went district-wide in the Pacific Northwest.

Kiwanians load boxes of eyeglasses into a vehicle. Kiwanian Ron Swengel, an optician, and his wife, Billie, own and operate an optical shop in Washington state. Swengel launched the SOS program at the Lynnwood Kiwanis Club in Lynnwood, Washington, when he became president in 2000. The couple has facilitated the program at their club for 19 years. 

"Eyeglasses are what we do. We provide vision to everybody we can," says Ron Swengel. "With the facilities at our optical shop, tools and equipment, and space, it just seemed like a good fit."

Since 2003, clubs in the Pacific Northwest District have been the main providers of glasses for Eyecare Wecare, a foundation that leads mobile optometry missions to serve impoverished residents in the Philippines. 

Kiwanians have donated an estimated 540,000 glasses since the program began.

The Lynnwood club has collected 848 pairs this year alone — donated by individuals, the local fire department and two high schools. A steady group of volunteers help clean, repair and package the used glasses for shipping.

"Everybody has their own job they like to do and they just jump in and do it," Billie Swengel says.

The prescription-tagged glasses are safely shipped to Eyecare Wecare for its missions. On-site optometrists in the Philippines give free eye exams. Opticians then use a digital system to fit recipients with glasses that closely match their prescriptions. 

"It’s just kind of ballpark opticianry, but it’s so much more than a lot of these folks have," says Ron Swengel.

The glasses make a big difference to people who would otherwise have no vision assistance.

"Even though we don’t see the end product, we know we’re doing good, helping somewhere where help is needed," Billie Swengel says. 

The program provides the Swengels and other Kiwanians an opportunity to serve and impact others, which was always Collison’s hope. 

“The gift of eyesight and the gift of giving without ever expecting anything in return,” he says, “is what it’s all about.”

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