Lion's Club provides used eyeglasses around the world

Lion's Club International Foundation member Walt Krumm separates prescription glasses into boxes at the Lion's Club warehouse on the property of Walt's Brake Shop on Dec. 8.

Published: Sunday, January 3, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 2, 2010 at 10:52 p.m.

OCALA - Like most eyeglass wearers, Walt Krumm, 78, often forgets where he places his spectacles. For him, it's more than a slight nuisance - he must locate his in a workshop filled with thousands of pairs of glasses.

"If you wear glasses, don't set them down," said Krumm with a laugh, citing an instance when he accidentally donated his own pair.

Krumm runs Florida Lions Eye Glass Reclamation on Northwest Gainesville Road in Ocala, part of a Lion's Club International Foundation volunteer program that recycles and restores used eyeglasses.

The center sits on property across from Walt's Brake Shop, which is now run by Krumm's son and grandsons.

"I've always wanted to live where I worked, because that's how our forefathers worked," said Krumm.

More than a dozen volunteers donate three to four hours a shift at the recycling center. Krumm spends eight or more hours, seven days a week, in the workshop. His wife, Marilyn, sometimes matches his long volunteer hours.

The glasses go through an assembly line process that includes reading the prescriptions, a lengthy cleaning and disinfecting stage, sorting and labeling of glasses and lenses, and properly boxing items for shipping.

Estelle Clark, a Lions vice district governor, said the center mainly gets orders from mission groups and medical campaigns, since it is illegal to distribute used glasses in the U.S. without a licensed medical professional.

"If we do not have a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist who examines the patient and finds the proper glasses that we have recycled for them, we cannot distribute them in the U.S.," said Clark. "This guarantees the pair of glasses is not going to harm the people. Wearing the wrong eyeglasses is just as bad as driving under the influence. You are impairing that person's health and their eyesight."

Dr. Paul Anderson, an optometrist at Optical Express, has been on several campaigns to Central and South America. He uses Krumm as his main eyeglass supplier because of his "top notch" quality.

"Forty percent of these people really only require over-the-counter reading type glasses, but they have no way of obtaining them," said Anderson. "Now these used ones have a place. Some of these people may not be able to read, but they can sew and make trinkets to sell in the market. Sometimes they are very emotional and want to give you a kiss on the forehead because they are so overjoyed."

Krumm said in the U.S., 80 percent of the population can afford eyeglasses, and 20 percent can't. But in Third World countries, the numbers are reversed: 20 percent can afford glasses, while 80 percent cannot.

"Those are the people we are reaching. It's quite rewarding in many ways," said Krumm. "Sometimes when countries are in trouble and people are walking around with machine guns, you are going to see Lions there."

Since Krumm took over the center in 2005, he estimates they have sent between 1.5 and 2 million pairs of glasses overseas and to Feed the Children, which is based in the U.S but has outreach programs around the world.

Krumm has shipped as far as Alaska, and as many as 6,000 at a time to Maine. From this year's first quarter, which started July 1, he has shipped more than 32,350 pairs of glasses that will be sent overseas.

"I began to realize maybe this was my calling of how I was retiring. It gives me a purpose in life and helps others in the process," said Krumm. "That's how I feel very honored to be a Lion."

Clark said the Lions Club first started in 1917 and has many different charitable causes. In 1925, Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf, asked the Lions to be her knights for the blind.

Lions now have more than 45,000 clubs and more than 1.3 million members worldwide, making them the "world's largest service club organization," according to the Lions Clubs Web site,

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