Thursday, April 08, 1999

Your specs can take a magical trip overseas

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The five most annoying words in our house are: Have you seen my glasses?

        They could be anywhere. In my husband's case, they probably are under a table at a restaurant. He needs them only to read menus. I don't have to wear my glasses all the time either — just when I want to see. So I don't wear them in public. I wear them when I'm reading in bed or watching Ally McBeal or checking my e-mail. The rest of the time, I squint or wear contact lenses.

Cameron and me
        After my last eye exam, I was told I might have to wear my glasses more often. In public. So I bought a new pair, which make me look just like Cameron Diaz — if Cameron were older, fatter, not at all beautiful and had a dimple-ectomy. (If we're ever invited to the same party, we'll probably have to wear name tags to avoid confusion.)

        I hate to throw away my old glasses. They were expensive and have served me well. So as a going-away present, I'm giving them a trip abroad. LensCrafters and Lions Clubs International will take them on their next “mission,” aboard a plane bound for a developing country.

        They call it the Gift of Sight (GOS). Since 1991, 26 missions to 17 countries have delivered free eye exams and recycled glasses to 313,458 people. It's not “cause-related marketing,” the latest buzzword to describe a program in which you use your credit card and, say, a penny goes to research. Or maybe you buy a car and the dealer donates some of the money to a good cause.

        This one is pure philanthropy. Unless you count what happens to a company where employees use their break time to wash, sort and repair old eyewear. Or what happens when departments begin to form teams to see who can put together the most packages to go overseas.

        And, of course, you can't really calculate what happens to an employee who actually sees “the magic moment.” That's what they call it when a person can see for the first time.

        “It changes your life,” Alison Kaar of LensCrafters says.

World citizen
        LensCrafters chief executive officer Dave Browne, who has challenged his company to help a million needy people by 2003, likes to tell the story of the exceedingly nearsighted schoolteacher in Mexico.

        “How did you see your students?” the volunteer asked in wonder.

        “I just got to know them by their voices,” the man answered.

        Charity begins at home, of course. And LensCrafters would like for me to tell you that they provide new eyeglasses to tens of thousands of schoolchildren here in this country, and do free screenings and adjust glasses in senior centers. But if you consider yourself a citizen of the world, if you have connected with any of the photos you've been seeing of Kosovar refugees, think about it.

        GOS needs all kinds of glasses, including sunglasses — prescription and just UV-protected. Many mission countries are sunny, and sometimes GOS can't help. They might need surgery or maybe they just don't need corrective lenses. They would be turned away empty-handed. In front of their neighbors.

        “We want to keep their dignity,” GOS director Susan Knobler says.

        Dignity. Sight. Courtesy of you.

        If you don't have prescription eyeglasses to donate, give them your old sunglasses. You know, the ones that you thought would make you look just like Tom Cruise in Risky Business. Instead, you looked more like a praying mantis.

        Take them to any LensCrafters location or give them to a Lions Club member. You can also drop them off at The Cincinnati Enquirer's customer service center at 312 Elm St. downtown, between 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

        Remember how good it feels to find your glasses after you've lost them. Multiply that by about a thousand. That will be how good it feels to somebody who finds your glasses on his nose and is able to see.

        For the very first time.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at or call 768-8393. She can be heard Mondays on WVXU radio and on National Public Radio's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.

        Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at