Ohio State students recycle used eyeglasses

Published 10:27 am Tuesday, June 8, 2010

COLUMBUS (AP) — In a hot and stuffy closet-sized room in the bowels of Fry Hall on the Ohio State University campus, a small army of do-gooders sifts though someone else’s junk.

Optometry students gather there at least weekly to sort through tubs, boxes and crates of thousands of castoff eyeglasses.

They rip through them quickly, tossing aside what is broken beyond repair and saving what is good.

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Even in the Coke-bottle-thick glasses and the pearl-studded horn rims that probably no one has worn since Jimmy Carter was president, the students see treasures.

For a girl in Guatemala who hasn’t seen her parents clearly or been able to read the print in a book since she was born, those old glasses are as valuable as if they were made of gold.

“When we take the glasses to some other place, some South American country or some desolate land, and a kid puts them on and can suddenly see what’s around them, it’s like we’ve just handed them a milli on dollars,” Patrick Milleson said. “It’s just such a thrill to see their faces.”

Milleson, a 26-year-old student from Ironton in southern Ohio, is president of the OSU organization Students Volunteering Optometric Services to Humanity.

In Ohio, many of the glasses people drop into Lions Club boxes that are scattered around stores and offices eventually end up in the cramped room on 10th Avenue.

Lions Clubs International is the world’s largest service club organization, and saving and giving sight is its largest mission.

“We have become such a rich society that we take for granted that anyone who needs glasses can get them,” said Mallory Kuchem, a 23-year-old student from Powell who will join 25 other OSU optometry students on the annual mission trip in September, this one to Guatemala. “The glasses we hand out change people’s lives.”

The club, which has 95 members, takes in about 100,000 pairs each year.

The students clean the glasses, check the pres criptions and bag and label them for the trip. About 30 percent of what is collected is usable.

The rest — the broken frames; the delicate, rimless ones; and glasses with prescriptions that are too odd or out of whack — are melted down.

The money the club gets from that scrap goes toward its $36,000 annual budget.

The budget is used to pay for eye exams and new glasses for the needy at clinics in Columbus; help fund the mission trip; help pay for specially made glasses for people who are in danger of losing all eyesight; and buy much-coveted reading glasses and sunglasses.

The students and the three OSU eye doctors will take nearly 4,000 pairs of glasses and 2,000 pairs of sunglasses on the mission this year. They also will take medicines to treat eye infections and minor illnesses.

And they will take a whole bunch of hats. Ball caps, sun hats, visors.

It seems glasses aren’t the only thing people drop into those Lions Club donation boxes.

The hats help people in the countries visited on the mission trips to protect their eyes from the harsh sun.

Some other things the students find in Lions Club boxes are less useful.

“The Band-Aids are the grossest,” Kuchem said. “I think we find them because people used them to hold their frames together, but they creep me out anyway.”

Sometimes, too, they find notes.

“It’ll be taped to the side of the glasses and say something like, ‘These were my mom’s. She just died,'” said Dave Johnson, a 29-year-old student from Portsmouth. “We like the notes. It reminds us that these glasses have a story and that, when we take them, we’re only adding to it.”