The Johnston Lions Club, which was chartered by Lions International in 1951, has always had its sights set on the town of Johnston.
While the non-profit organization has performed a myriad of volunteer duties during its tenure, helping people with vision challenges has always been paramount to their mission. The Johnston Lions’ most recent program, which has been expanded from one to three locations, is its on-going collection of used eyeglasses that eventually wind up in the form of new eyeglasses for people in third world countries.
Last year, the JLC collected 5,000 pairs of used eyeglasses with the help of Johnston-based eye care companies Koch Eye Associates and Dr. William Andreoni, whose offices are both located off Atwood Avenue, and OPTX Rhode Island on Hartford Avenue.
The JLC gets unusable large roadside mailboxes from the United States Postal Service and turns them over to club member and volunteer Chris Giardina.
“Chris makes the mailboxes look like new,” said Vito Georgio, the JLC’s sight representative. “He does everything from straighten them to paint them yellow.”
At present, the JLC has three yellow mailboxes in Johnston. They’re located at the Atwood Avenue Stop & Shop Supermarket, the Johnston Senior Center and Marian J. Mohr Memorial Library.
“We ask everyone to simply drop used eyeglasses into the yellow mailboxes,” Georgia explained. “We check the mailboxes and collect the eyeglasses once a month. Then, I take them to LensCrafters at the Warwick Mall.”
Georgio said that LensCrafters, which teams up with Lions International, then sends the glasses to third world countries where they are transformed into new eye wear.
“Koch Eye, Dr. Andreoni and OPTX also collect glasses for us,” Georgio noted. “This is a great program; it helps people all over the world and that’s what Lions International is about, helping the blind and helping those in need.”
The JLC has another program with Koch Eye Associates that helps people around Johnston who need glasses but cannot afford them.
“If someone needs glasses and can’t afford them, we send them to Koch Eye,” Georgio said. “They have an exam, then once the doctor determines what the patient needs, that person gets his or her glasses.”
The JLC pays for both the eye examination and new glasses that Koch Eye Care provides at a much-reduced cost. Georgio did say, though, that only those people in need could participate in the program.
“We’re proud of all our programs,” Georgio said of the JLC, which has 35 members at present. “We are all volunteers who really enjoy doing charity work. Most of us signed up with the club so we could give back to the community. We’re not just an organization for the visually impaired.”
The JLC, which is led by President Joe Swift, has a portfolio that includes helping children with cancer, distributing polio vaccines to Johnston schoolchildren and purchasing a rescue wagon and Jaws of Life, along with other firefighting equipment.
“We’ve helped the Mohr Library, Johnston Senior Center and even the recreation department and youth sports groups,” Georgio said. “Since 1985, we’ve contributed to needy children through a scholarship program that was enhanced by longtime member Armand Muto. We even go out to nursing homes and sing Christmas carols.”
The scholarship program has distributed $125,000 to local students.
“We’d like to do more, but we need more members,” Swift said.
The JLC is currently looking for new members who are interested in helping to expand programs. The Lions Club is open to both women and men. The club meets the first Wednesday of each month, excluding July and August. Meetings begin at 7 p.m.
“If a person is interested in joining the Johnston Lions and takes pride and satisfaction in helping their community and those in need, please call me. I always have an application at hand,” Swift said.
Swift can be reached at 231-9120.