By Sucheta Singh, Marketing and Communications
On a quiet, cool Sunday morning, a crowd grows outside the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House in Vancouver.
When the doors finally open, people line up and wait to get in as greetings in Mandarin and Cantonese flow through the door.
Today, this group consists of low-income seniors who can’t afford eyeglasses. The people fitting them with eyeglasses are Douglas College Dispensing Opticianry program students. Lily Hecht, who is both a volunteer and participant, says the program helps seniors who are financially strapped.
“That was really nice, to be assured about my eyes and then get another pair of glasses.”
There are 57 participants who were given an eye exam at the beginning of March. Today, they are walking out with new glasses.
“It’s wonderful because some people came in at the beginning of the program and they had strings tied to their glasses and they hadn’t had eye exams in a few years and they were so happy to get them,” says Hecht.
Called The Eyeglasses Project, the venture is the brainchild of Douglas College grad, Howard Ma.
“I was looking to buy new glasses and I started wondering, ‘What did I pay last time?’ I remember it was $800,” he says. A pretty penny for a common necessity.
He then started to think about how low-income people could afford it.
“I just sort of guessed that many of them do without or they have a really old prescription.”
Ma decided to do something about it.
He knew Douglas had a dispensing opticianry program and a vision centre so he gave them a call. Instructor Tony Vianni was on board. So was the Richmond Chinatown Lions Club, which helped fund the project.
As word gets out about the work here in the Downtown Eastside, Ma hopes to take it across Canada in the coming years.