A sight to behold: Recycled eyeglasses changing lives

When Brad Moss took over as chair of the Lions Club District N4 Sight Conservation Committee in 2014, he wasn't prepared for the vision that greeted him in his predecessor's garage.  

"He opens the door and there's this mountain of boxes," said Moss. 

Those boxes contained about 10,000 pairs of eyeglasses in need of recycling, and Moss learned there were another 15,000 pairs gathering dust in the basement of the Lions Club in St. John's.

The stockpile of donated glasses grew after a problem several years ago with the contract for the trucking company that would normally transport them to the Lions' national recycling centre in Calgary.

Gazing at the pile of boxes, Moss knew he needed to take action. He did some research and helped set up a program to have inmates at the Bishop's Falls Correctional Centre do the recycling work instead. 

Since production started in Oct. 2015, the program has flourished.

"We have seven guys working on glasses seven days a week," said Moss.

The inmates have sanitized and polished 62,000 pairs of glasses, and are now importing them from Nova Scotia to be fixed.

They also use a special machine that reads the lens and prints out the prescription, before they're packed in clear plastic bags, ready to be distributed by the Lions Club to organizations working on vision projects in 75 countries around the world.

The glasses the inmates can't salvage are sold to a company in the U.S., where they are put through a grinder and used to make asphalt and road paint.

Changing lives

Moss has seen first-hand the difference the program can make in the lives of people in Haiti and Nicaragua.

Looking for a solution to that pile of boxes in the garage, he contacted Andrew Furey, one of the lead doctors behind Team Broken Earth, hoping the humanitarian organization could use the glasses on its next mission to Haiti.

"Well, I had this vision of taking them to the airport, and you know passing them in and feeling good about it, waving goodbye to the plane, that type of thing," Moss told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.   

"A series of emails later, Andrew comes back with a fairly terse one that says basically, 'You should go.'"

Moss made his first trip to Haiti in October 2015, with two optometrists and another Lions Club member from Old Perlican. They worked non-stop over five days to test the eyes of 650 people.

After that came a trip to Nicaragua in 2016, and another to Haiti last month. 

Over those three missions — and two held for those in need in St. John's — 2,012 people were tested and 1,325 were provided with a free pair of glasses.

It is a life changing experience, not only for the people being seen at the clinics, but for those who work hard to help them.

"The level of appreciation is just not something you're used to here. These are people that may have never seen an eye doctor in their life," said Moss.

An example that has stuck with Moss is an elderly woman in Nicaragua, who had to be led into the clinic by her daughter. 

"When the doctor put the glasses on her, she just started to cry. Her daughter got up and walked a few paces and said, 'Mom, can you see me?' and she said 'yes.'"

"She was so touched she broke down and cried ... I can't say I didn't well up myself," said Moss.

"It makes all of the work we do here, and I'm doing something in connection with this project six days a week, emails at night or planning or fundraising ... that's the payoff."

Moss will be going back to Haiti for another clinic with Team Broken Earth in September. 

You can contact your local Lions Club to find out how to donate your old eyeglasses, or get more information on the District N4 Lions Club website.