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With your help, the eyes have it

Don’t trash them, don’t hoard them, says Anne Jilek, because your unneeded eyeglasses are needed by others far away. Collection buckets for glasses are found at numerous places throughout River Falls. (River Falls Journal photo by Phil Pfuehler)

Anne Jilek said says the answer is an emphatic yes to those asking if there’s still a local collection of eyeglasses that gets distributed abroad.

Jilek should know. She returned a month ago from rural central Nicaragua where some 4,200 natives got basic eye exams and then, if needed, were fitted with prescription eyeglasses donated from people in River Falls and across Wisconsin.

The River Falls Lions Club has been collecting discarded eyeglasses for more than 15 years.

Lion member Mel Germanson gathers them once or twice a month from five-gallon white buckets at these 13 locations: First National Bank; River Falls State Bank; BMO Harris Bank; WESTconsin Credit Union; Associated Bank; ShopKo; Eyeware on Main (Ritzinger’s); Falls Family Eye Care (Ginsberg’s); River Falls Post Office lobby; Luther Memorial Church; First Congregational Church; UW-River Falls Student Center; and Meyer Middle School (teacher Jean Ritzinger’s room).

Germanson said the eyeglass collection is one of the voluntary tasks he does as a Lion. He estimates his yearly haul of donated glasses averages 750.

In past years Dr. Bob Johnson, another Lion member, and his wife Mary, took used prescription glasses to distribute in Mexico.

Jilek, using glasses supplied by the Lions, went to Nicaragua to distribute glasses as part of her role with Wisconsin/Nicaragua Partners.

WNP is a nonprofit, non-political organization established in the 1960s. It promotes people-to-people programs in cultural awareness, health, farming and sustainable community development.

Jilek’s husband, Tony, is also a member of WNP, having served for a year as board president and is co-leader of the current dairy project program. Tony Jilek also taught animal sciences at UW-River Falls for more than 26 years.

The connection between Wisconsin and Nicaragua includes the Eyeglass Project.

Anne Jilek said donated eyeglasses are cleaned and adjusted by volunteer opticians and sent to a state prison. There, prisoners classify, label and package them before being sent to other countries.

Jilek has made three trips to Nicaragua. The last one was from Jan. 24 to Feb. 3.

Generally the groups that visit Nicaragua try to find remote areas where people lack access to basic eye care.

“This can be the first time for having their eyes looked at,” Jilek said.

The checkups, often held in school classrooms, include interviews, use of eye charts, refractors (machines with various lenses to determine prescription needs), and then a matching/fitting of available glasses.

For the complete story, please see the March 6 print edition of the River Falls Journal.