St. Paul man helps collect 700K glasses for those in need

Published 10:24 am Monday, July 25, 2016

By Mary Divine

St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — The conference room in Jeff Fenske’s St. Paul law office generally serves as meeting space and library — but several times a year, he packs the room with boxes, bins and crates full of old and unwanted eyeglasses.

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Fenske, 59, of St. Paul, is the east-metro collection czar for the Minnesota Lions Vision Foundation, which annually collects more than 700,000 pairs of used eyeglasses.

The eyeglasses are sorted, cleaned and distributed to people from emerging countries who lack the resources for an eye exam and glasses, Fenske said. Most of the glasses collected by Lions Clubs in Minnesota are distributed in Central and South America.

Last week, there were about 5,000 pairs of glasses in Fenske’s office on Cleveland Avenue.

“This box has 200 pairs in it,” Fenske said. “There’s about 800 more over there. Here’s another 800, and this box is even more full. And I’ve got two more stops yet this week: Lund & Lange Florist and Health Partners on Phalen Boulevard.”

Fenske, a member of the St. Paul Midway Lions Club and a Minnesota Lions Vision Foundation board member, drives to collection sites in Ramsey, Dakota and Washington counties to collect pick up eyeglasses. He then carefully sifts through the donations and throws away those that are broken or missing lenses.

“Anything that doesn’t look usable gets tossed,” he said.

Fenske takes the glasses to the Minnesota Lions Eye Bank in St. Paul, where Bob Hoofnagle, the director of the Minnesota Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center in Sauk Rapids, collects them and takes them to a storage facility in Sauk Rapids.

Three or four times a year, Hoofnagle delivers truckloads of used eyeglasses to the Eyeglass Recycling Center in Rosholt, Wis., which collects more than 1 million pairs annually. Inmates at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wis., and at the Federal Correctional Institution in Oxford, Wis., then clean and test the prescriptions and sort, bag and box them.

Boxes of glasses — representing a range of prescriptions — are sent to optometrists and ophthalmologists going on mission trips, Hoofnagle said.

“Most of the missions that are supplied out of here go to Mexico, Central America and South America,” Hoofnagle said.

Mission trip participants test each recipient’s eyes and try to find a pair of glasses with a matching prescription, Fenske said. “They usually are able just to match one lens,” he said. “You’re never going to get a perfect fit, but they try to match one lens to what the prescription of the individual is so that they’ll be able to see.”

Hoofnagle, 70, who retired in 2001 as discipline unit supervisor for the Minnesota Correctional Facility — St. Cloud, said his volunteer work is changing lives.

“If you provide a senior with a pair of glasses, it helps with independence and living skills,” Hoofnagle said. “You provide kids with glasses, and they’re able to do better in school because they can see and read. Other adults, they’re able to work and support themselves and their families because they can see again.”