Volunteers continue long tradition of recycling eyeglasses

The Lions Club closed down its Wrangell chapter seven years ago, but volunteers still participate in the international service organization’s eyeglass recycling program.

“We’re still collecting eyeglasses,” said Janet Strom, who along with her husband and co-volunteer Dennis belonged to the Lions Club when it disbanded in 2016.

Janet Strom packed up two boxes and mailed about 150 pairs of eyeglasses last week, not long after she sent a box to the recycling operation in September. They mail out at least four boxes to the Alaska center every year.

Though the Alaska operation has nothing to do with the higher-profile Santa Claus, the recycling center is in North Pole, where volunteers distribute about 30,000 pairs a year to eye care missions worldwide, according to the center’s website.

“It’s a fantastic operation,” Strom said.

Though Lions Clubs in Alaska have been collecting and distributing eyeglasses for a lot longer than 20 years, the Aurora Borealis Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center was built in 2004 to clean and process donations from across the state.

It’s one of a dozen such centers nationwide, with six more outside the U.S., according to Lions Club International. The operation has collected several million pairs of eyeglasses in the U.S. alone.

In Wrangell, people may bring their unneeded eyeglasses to First Bank, where there is a box in the lobby that the Stroms empty when they’re ready for the next shipment to North Pole.

People can donate their old prescription and reading glasses, regular or bifocals or trifocals, plastic or metal frames, even prescription sunglasses. Sometimes, the recycling center uses just the lenses, sometimes the frames, and sometimes the entire set.

However, don’t drop any eyeglass cases in the collections box, Janet Strom said. They’re not needed and take up more space in the mailing box. The Stroms cover the postage.

“I feel living in Wrangell, the least I can do is pick up and mail,” she said. “We were some of the last members when the Lions Club closed.” The club disbanded after 48 years, due to declining membership.

“Children’s glasses are especially needed,” the service organization reminds people on its website.

“I get a lot of cute ones,” Strom said. “You know how fast kids outgrow their glasses.”

The collections program in Wrangell went on hold during the worst of the COVID outbreak, as people were concerned about handling things from outside their household, but collections have returned at strong numbers, she said.

The Lions SightFirst program started in 1990 and includes vision care in underserved communities worldwide. The service organization calls it “one of our most impactful grant programs.”


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