After experiencing a lull in clients during the first year of the pandemic, the Burbank Noon Lions Club is hoping more low-income residents apply to receive free eye exams and glasses.
The local nonprofit had “just a handful” of people who came to it for services over the past year or so, according to Marva Murphy, the group’s secretary and chair of vision projects. While in most years funding would run out in two to three months after programs opened, due to COVID-19, requests slowed to a crawl — something that Murphy believes will shift as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to fall in Los Angeles County.
“I’m getting more and more referrals now because people are getting vaccinated, and they feel more comfortable about coming out and going to doctor’s offices and taking care of all these things that have been on hold and postponed for the last year,” she said.
The club, to which the city recently allocated $5,000 in federal funding for next fiscal year, might find itself helping more children in particular, Murphy noted. Many kids have spent an unusual amount of time in front of computer screens for school during the pandemic.
The Burbank Noon Lions estimates that it will be able to provide eye exams and glasses to 38 residents with the grant allocation.
“Hopefully we can see a pent-up demand and take care of a lot of folks with this money,” said Bud Alleman, the nonprofit’s president.
Another local nonprofit, the Burbank Temporary Aid Center, typically serves as a screening center for the Noon Lions Club, referring its low-income and homeless clients to the latter. Those clients can later visit an optometrist to receive an eye exam and prescription glasses; the bill will go directly to the club.
But when the pandemic pushed BTAC’s staff — now without the in-person support of their volunteers — to new lengths, CEO Barbara Howell said they were too busy to go through the referral process with their clients.
“A year ago, we were hoping we’d still be around in a year,” she said. She added that BTAC has recently received more requests regarding vision care, though some clients don’t follow up on the referrals they received.
The Noon Lions Club turned to other local nonprofits to act as screening centers while BTAC grappled with the effects of the pandemic on its staffing levels and demand for services. But other events, such as health fairs at which they usually screen children for vision problems, had to be cancelled.
Funding has also been impacted. The club hasn’t been able to hold its usual fundraising events, with Murphy estimating private donations — typically accounting for between a quarter and a third of the organization’s funding — falling to about 10% of pre-pandemic levels.
“We have been providing service in the community, but not doing fundraising,” she said.
But having experienced low demand for services, and anticipating an influx of grant funding at the beginning of July, Murphy said the Noon Lions Club is already accepting applications. Those interested should contact BTAC at (818) 848-2822 and request information about the Lions Eye Care program.
Participants shouldn’t expect to receive a pair of Ray-Ban or other designer glasses, Howell said. But they’ll get a good set of spectacles.
“Most people are just incredibly grateful, because vision care isn’t something everyone has — especially homeless individuals,” she added.