When a series of wildfires raced across Australia’s southern state of Victoria in 2009—destroying homes and even entire rural towns—Lions from near and far swiftly responded with emergency aid.
Bushfires are always a concern during the late summer, but a prolonged drought and oppressive heat had made the countryside unusually vulnerable that year. More than 400 fires struck the area northeast of Melbourne on February 7. The natural disaster, which came to be known as Black Saturday, was the deadliest wildfire in the country’s history. Driven by 60-mile-per-hour winds, flames reached 300 feet into the sky, moving so fast that they caught some people fleeing in their cars. The fires claimed 173 lives and destroyed thousands of homes. The picturesque town of Marysville was razed in 26 minutes, as were two smaller villages.
“Hell in all its fury has visited the good people of Victoria,” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told reporters, after touring the smoldering region.
As emergency aid began to arrive, Lions from across Australia and around the world took the lead. Australian Lions established a fire disaster relief drop-off center that served as a distribution warehouse from which members made deliveries to the hardest-hit areas.
“Mate, there wasn’t a dry eye in the car,” District Governor David Jones of the Melbourne Lions Club told LION Magazine after he toured the scorched Marysville area with International Vice President Sid L. Scruggs III, who went on to serve as international president from 2011 to 2012.
While Lions Clubs International Foundation immediately provided US$185,959 in grants, Australian Lions clubs went to work raising a much larger total. Australians take pride in their tradition of neighbors helping each other, and the fire sparked a diverse batch of aid efforts.
In the tiny town of Yinnar, Lions collected hay and distributed it to local farmers whose grazing lands had burned, so they could feed their animals. Another club raised money by sponsoring a benefit country music concert.
In Sydney, members of the Hornsby Leo Club staged a fashion show to raise relief funds. Members of the Ballina and East Ballina Lions clubs near Melbourne solicited donations at shopping malls, collecting nearly US$12,000 in their white plastic buckets. And Lions in the town of Trentham made six life-size fiberglass statues of the Australian creatures known as wombats available for sale in benefit fundraisers.
For fire victims, the help was a blessing. “Last week the Lions supplied us with furniture. Today the Lions have brought up a fantastic truckload of goods. When you go from absolutely nothing to within a couple of weeks we’re comfortable, we’re quite overwhelmed by all of that,” said Christine Adam.
It was devastating to lose everything, said Leanne Camilleri, a mother of five from Clonbinane. But in the aftermath of the fire “people started ringing us and said, ‘Well, look, the Lions can help you out,’” she said. “I can’t get over the generosity of people. … I can’t thank them enough.”
When District 1 J was considering new ways to give back to their suburban Chicago community, Lion Jeri DiPasquale had an idea. At age 13, her son had been diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, so her family knew all too well the needs of the diabetic community.
“As a parent, you always try to keep your child safe,” says DiPasquale. “You tell him not to run into the street and not to touch the hot stove. But a diagnosis of diabetes changes everything. You suddenly hold your child’s life in your hands. If you don’t give him his shot, he’s going to die.”
DiPasquale suggested to her club that they support diabetes prevention. The Lions of District 1 J teamed up with Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare (EMH) to develop a diabetes prevention and lifestyle intervention program by securing a $95,275 Core 4 Diabetes grant from Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF). The project prevents diabetes by providing education and resources to low-income adults at risk of developing the disease.
We never would have gotten through this without the education and support we got from Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare,” says DiPasquale. “Thank you, LCIF, for making sure other families have access to this vital resource.”
Diabetes is a growing epidemic in both the United States and worldwide. Some 29 million American adults have diabetes. That includes an estimated 7 million who do not know that they have the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Another 86 million Americans (more than 33 percent of adults) have prediabetes, which puts them at the highest risk of developing diabetes within the next five years. It is predicted that one in three Americans will have the disease by 2050 if current trends continue.
Now, with the help of local Lions, the new Diabetes Prevention and Lifestyle Intervention Program at EMH identifies underserved, financially strained and high-risk individuals who may have prediabetes. Those who screen positive for prediabetes are offered a free consultation with a diabetes educator at the hospital-based Learning Center. They can choose to enroll in a lifestyle-change program, based on the CDC curriculum designed to prevent or delay progression of Type 2 diabetes.
The program aims to educate participants with the ultimate goal of reducing the prevalence of diabetes. This is an expansive community outreach program that helps individuals identify their risks and develop a plan to minimize them.
Local Lions are integral to the success of the program. There are 64 Lions clubs in District 1 J and more than 2,300 members. The Lions function as community ambassadors by advocating for diabetes prevention. They facilitate informational meetings, help collect health data such as weight and BMI (Body Mass Index) measurements from participants, and host fundraising events.
With the help of Lions and LCIF, the target is for at least 65 percent of participants to lose weight, maintain that weight loss and experience a stabilization of the blood glucose level after completing the program. The Lions of District 1 J are working diligently to improve the health of their community and prove that an ounce of prevention is, indeed, worth a pound of cure.
For information on how your district can apply for a Core 4 Diabetes grant, visit lcif.org.
Above: Lion Jim Worden (left) discusses patient education with Julie Sanfilippo (center), a health coach with the Diabetes Prevention Program, and nurse Linda Voght (right), a certified diabetes educator at Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare in Illinois.
This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of “LION Magazine.”
I know you join me in sending thoughts and prayers to the people of Multiple District 300 Taiwan as they struggle to recover from a devastating earthquake. The earthquake struck near the city of Tainan, in the southern part of the island in the early morning hours of February 6, as most people lay sleeping. Many buildings collapsed.
The Lions of Multiple District 300 Taiwan have asked for emergency grants to provide immediate relief. Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) has responded, providing a major catastrophe grant of US$150,000 – less than 24 hours after the earthquake occurred. The foundation also gave 15 emergency grants to support immediate relief efforts, bringing the immediate total to US$300,000.
We can never predict when and where a natural disaster will occur. Your generous donations to LCIF allow us to respond with much needed funds to provide local Lions with the means necessary to supply food, fresh water, blankets, and clothing in the short term, as well as the ability to rebuild homes, schools and hospitals in disaster areas long after other agencies are gone.
This fiscal year alone, we have provided over US$983,000 in emergency and catastrophe grants. Your generosity means so much to so many people.
Please consider making a donation to LCIF’s disaster fund today to ensure that victims of natural disasters around the world get the help they need.
Dr. Jitsuhiro Yamada
Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) and VSP Global are teaming up in 2016 to improve access to clear, healthy vision in eight U.S. cities!
LCIF and VSP have launched a pilot partnership to improve access to eye care by offering no-cost comprehensive eye exams and, if prescribed, glasses to benefit up to 5,000 adults and children who qualify.
The pilot partnership is operating through January 2017 and will provide local Lions club districts and local Lions clubs with Eyes of Hope gift certificates for persons in need in each of the following metro areas:
• Chicago, Illinois
• Columbus, Ohio
• Long Island and Greater New York City, New York
• Baltimore City, Maryland
• Atlanta, Georgia
• Portland, Oregon
• Sacramento, California
• Grand Rapids, Michigan
“LCIF and Lions clubs are proud to expand our community outreach and partnership in cooperation with VSP Global,” says LCIF Chairperson Joe Preston. “LCIF is committed to improving sight in underserved communities around the world. There are resources available to help people with limited vision and we are happy to be a part of the solution to the problem.”
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 150 million people suffer from blurred vision due to uncorrected refractive errors, such as nearsightedness or farsightedness. The inability to see clearly can prevent children from learning in school, adults from finding work or staying employed, and older adults from living independently. Often, a simple pair of eyeglasses can bring the world into focus, but a lack of access to basic care prevents many people in developing nations from getting the treatment they need. Cost is also an issue; in a developing country a pair of glasses may cost as much as a month’s wages.
However, with the help of Lions around the world and the Recycle for Sight program, Lions Clubs International is bringing clear vision to millions, one pair of glasses at a time.
Through Recycle for Sight, Lions collect new and gently used eyeglasses and sunglasses in collection bins at a variety of locations in their communities including libraries, doctors’ offices, schools, sidewalks, banks and retail stores. The glasses are then shipped to the nearest Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center, where volunteers sort the glasses, clean them and determine their prescription strength. After carefully packaging the refurbished spectacles, Lions store them until they can be distributed, usually through humanitarian missions to developing nations.
Lion volunteers and eye care professionals screen thousands of children and adults during sight missions, providing them—free of charge—with prescription lenses, frames and ultimately a better quality of life. Lions also provide recycled glasses to nonprofit organizations focused on eye care, as well as to optometry college groups, religious organizations and military assistance groups, which also distribute to people in need.
Eyeglass recycling, a popular activity for Lions around the world, dates back to the 1930s. Similar to today, Lions gathered glasses in their communities processed and provided them to those most in need. For example, in the early 1960s, the Hayes & Harlington Lions clubs in England collected more than 20,000 pairs of glasses. Knowing of the need in India, they gave them to a Lions eye hospital in India, where they were processed and provided to local people.
In 1994, Lions Clubs turned their longtime efforts into an official program under the name Recycle for Sight. With a common identity and common format, the program has continued to expand and enable more people to see clearly.
Each year, Lions collect about 30 million pairs of glasses. Clubs in Australia and Japan annually send 500,000 pairs of glasses to six recycling centers in Australia. Over the past decade, more than 3.5 million pairs of eyeglasses from these centers have been shipped to locations including India, the Middle East and the smallest islands in Indonesia. By involving people from local correctional facilities, several of the centers are fostering rehabilitation by teaching skills that the inmates can use after they leave prison.
In 2013, Tokyo Sangenjaya Lions Club partnered with a national retailer to collect glasses for Australia’s recycling centers in 2013. “Seeing Lions work in packaging these eyeglass, I realize how much we consume and throw away that is still in usable or even perfect condition,” said one local businessman. “These eyeglasses will change someone’s life.”
In another part of the world, a 94-year-old man in Honduras cried, “Thank you!” after receiving a pair of Lions recycled glasses. “I can now read my Bible—the first time in 15 years.”
Many people are involved in collecting, processing and distributing recycled eyeglasses, including people who decide to donate their used eyeglasses, clubs that collect and send glasses to a Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center, volunteers who process and ship the glasses, and volunteers who organize and participate in mission distributions. The very positive result is that the quality of life is improved for people who receive this gift of sight.
View the full collection of Touchstone Stories on Lions100.org!
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