Monday, December 17, 2007

A sight for sore eyes


What started 11 years ago as a publicity stunt for the Santa Barbara Eyeglass Factory has grown into an annual community event that gives dozens of children a whole new outlook on life.
At yesterday’s 11th Annual Kids Health Day, parents watched as their children donned a new pair of glasses and gazed around in amazement. The Right to Sight program, funded and operated by the Eyeglass Factory, offers free eye exams and eyeglasses to those with financial need.

Jasmine Torres, 9, rattled off objects pictured on a chart about ten feet away with little trouble. Although her eyesight is improving with age, she said she definitely needed glasses when she was younger.
“In preschool, I was running when I wasn’t supposed to, and I ran into a glass door,” she said.
Despite her performance on the sight test, Torres received a new set of glasses, one of more than 100 children who got a free pair of eyeglasses and a picture with Santa Claus at yesterday’s event. This year alone, the Right to Sight program has helped close to 1,000 individuals.
“It’s so easy, and that is key when you want to get stuff done,” said Rick Feldman, founder of the program and owner of the Eyeglass Factory. “The reason that this program works is that we don’t have a board of directors or anything. We just do it.”
Michael Macias, 6, picked out the frames for his first pair of glasses yesterday, his mother, Lilia, watching as he tried on a few different designs.
“He actually got a letter back at the beginning of the year saying he was having trouble seeing the board,” she said. “He’d have to come in during recess and copy things down.”
Michael’s brother, Nicholas, and sister, Maya, were also fitted for new glasses. Lilia said she heard about the program on the radio and drove down yesterday from Lompoc to attend the event.
Teen volunteers from the zoo, dressed up in animal outfits, provided entertainment to those waiting for an exam or fitting. City firefighters handed out plastic fire helmets and a volunteer Santa Claus made his rounds, taking photos with children and offering chocolate to every visitor.
With Christmas music playing in the background, a generous spread of food, and dozens of people milling about, the scene at Milpas and Quinientos streets glowed with a spirit of goodwill.
Inside the Eyeglass Factory, manager Ricky Bridges worked quickly to shape lenses and fit them to frames before passing the glasses off to another volunteer to adjust them to each youngster’s face.
“They’re very excited once they receive their glasses,” Bridges said. “It’s amazing how excited a kid can get when they can finally see.”
In a nearby room, Dr. Barry Mast examined 5-year-old Christian Loredo’s eyes, quizzing him on the meaning of retinoscopy.
“That means you are checking my eyes,” Loredo said.
Although he admitted he has to sit close to the television sometimes, Loredo said he didn’t think he needed glasses. However, Dr. Mast said a pair of eyeglasses would definitely help him out.
“Yeah, he’s got a pretty strong prescription,” he said.
Feldman, while admitting he held the first Kids Health Day to get a bit of publicity during the holidays, said he became inspired after watching a television reporter stoop down to ask a young girl what her new glasses meant to her. The girl lifted her glasses up, then settled them back down on her nose and said, “Now I can see.”
Since then, Feldman has partnered with about 20 organizations to offer the program throughout the year. Families are referred to either SEE International or Dr. Mast if they need eye care or glasses and can’t afford them.
“Some people ask, are you sure everyone has a real need?” Feldman said. “We don’t worry about it. If they say they have the need, they have the need.”
Those that need eyeglasses are given a gift certificate, identical to those given to any other customer, for a set of glasses from the Eyeglass Factory.
“It’s done with dignity,” Feldman said. “They don’t have to come in here hat in hand.”
Congresswoman Lois Capps, First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal and Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum all received tours of the operation yesterday, watching as children went from squinting to grinning as they slipped on their new glasses.
Carbajal, who just got a new pair of glasses from the Eyeglass Factory about a month ago, praised Feldman for his service to the community.
“It’s easy to get comfortable,” he said. “When you are comfortable and the world around you is comfortable, it’s easy to forget about everyone who needs our help. He’s a great role model for our community.”
For more information, call the Santa Barbara Eyeglass Factory at 965-0098. To schedule an appointment for a free eye exam, call SEE International at 963-3303 or Dr. Mast at 884-8465.

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