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Non-profit ReSpectacle continues to expand its reach worldwide

BY BRIANNA JETT | SEPTEMBER 25, 2012 6:30 AM

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All over the world, people go without prescription glasses simply because they cannot afford them. And all over the United States, unused glasses sit hidden in drawers or behind the bathroom mirror, replaced by a new pair.

Around a year ago, Jeff Lynch created a solution to the problem. He founded ReSpectacle, a nonprofit organization dedicated to giving glasses of the correct prescription to those who need them. ReSpectacle has grown since then, with five locations across three states: here at the University of Iowa, Washington University, St. Louis University, the University of Arkansas, and the Associated Eye Care of the Twin Cities in St. Paul, Minn.

“We are trying to make connections with groups that travel to other countries and have someone who can give prescriptions,” said Katie Lynch, Jeff Lynch’s sister and the site director of the UI ReSpectacle chapter.

ReSpectacle is also expanding its reach across the globe. So far, its glasses have reached four countries: Kenya, Guatemala, Congo, and Costa Rica. Tyler Risma, the president of the UI chapter, hopes to take the organization to Haiti in October.

“The plan is for me to be able to set up a connection there so that it can be a sustained effort into the future,” Risma said. 

The connection is needed in the other countries because difficulties arise when mailing abroad. Haiti has problems with its postal service, so someone needs to take the glasses down there. ReSpectacle hopes to team up with Community Health Initiative Haiti, a group that regularly travels down there.

“It makes sense, once you think about it,” Katie Lynch said. “I’ve had glasses since elementary school. When I get a new pair, I have no use for the old pair. They’re not the right prescription anymore. What am I going to do with those, even if I really like them? There’s nothing I can do with them. So it makes sense someone would do this — collect them and make them available to other people.”

To give someone in need a pair of glasses, ReSpectacle must know what prescription is needed. This is because the organization depends upon donations of used glasses and distributes them as needed in an effort to get the best possible fit. This is in contrast to other eyeglass-recycling efforts, where the patients sort through a donated and pick a pair through guesswork.

“You just sort of wonder what the chances were that they would get the right prescription,” Jeff Lynch said, referring to the other methods.

ReSpectacle is instead an online database, in which patients enter their prescription, look through pictures of glasses that match said prescription, and then place an order —free of charge. Shipping is paid for by grants and private donations.

“It is great to see how they have combined the reuse of unwanted eyeglasses with the power of the Internet to address a global health need,” said Joe Schmidt, the director of external relations at the UIHC Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.

Each pair of glasses donation is cleaned, tested for the prescription, photographed and put online, and then stored until it is ordered.

“We slowly have been working on building a database of glasses, with a goal of building one so big that virtually any prescription will be available at any given time,” Jeff Lynch said.

Even though ReSpectacle is not shipping to every state or every country, he said, the process is working very well in the local communities.

“There is obviously the potential for it to become something bigger and for it to help a lot of people, but for me right now I know I can help someone today,” Katie Lynch said.


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