The annual “Kids’ Day” vision fair sponsored by the Santa Barbara Eyeglass Factory started out as simple charity event designed to help children with poor eyesight.
Almost two decades later, the effort has expanded to not only provide youngsters with free eye exams and eyewear, but also give health exams and flu shots — and have some fun in the process.
The 19th annual Kids’ Day took place Sunday afternoon in and around the Eyeglass Factory’s store at 1 S. Milpas St. at Quinientos Street on the Lower Eastside, with American Indian Health Services’ Clinic on Wheels (COW) and Walgreens assisting.
Beyond the serious business of eye exams and glasses, there was lots of entertainment, Santa included.
“What I try to do is to make it a fun time, because nobody likes to go to the doctor,” said Rick Feldman, owner and founder of the Eyeglass Factory. “Half of the population in this country has a need for eye care and eyewear.”
At the parking lot behind Feldman’s store, cookies and juices were served, and artists painted on faces or arms.
Tri-County Produce offered fruits and juices, and a magician entertained those waiting for their turns to be examined.
A van equipped with computer screens and learning devices also was there to assist Spanish-speaking preschoolers with their English skills.
To balance the sedentary waiting, watching and snacking, dance teacher Trudie Olsen-Curtis of Embody Dance International invited those in attendance to get up for some line-dancing.
The Eyeglass Factory organizes the event each year as part of its “Right to Sight” program, which used to help just children get eyewear to improve their everyday tasks, but has since been extended to people of all ages.
Sarahi Zarco, 17, of Lompoc, said her family has known about the event for years. This year, she came with her sister to get a new pair of glasses because she broke her previous ones.
“Personally, we need the help with it,” she said. “I bought glasses one year, and it was like $300 for two pairs ... I don’t think I could do that again.”
Feldman, who opened the store in 1994, started the program and event 19 years ago when school nurses and educators approached him and expressed their concern for kids’ difficulties in school.
“It’s well known that when kids cannot see well, they lose interest in studying,” Feldman said. “The simple guess was that they needed glasses. A lot of the time, the difficulty was finding the money.”
Drs. Barry Mast, George Primbs and Christian Wilson are the eye-care professionals who volunteer to examine and write prescriptions for the children.
Every year, the doctors examine between 100 and 150 children during Kids’ Day.
“Most of them need glasses,” Feldman said.
The process is easy: First, the kids take a number, and when it’s their turn, they get examined in any of the offices.
Afterward, they walk back in to the store, where employees take their prescription and help them pick out frames. The patients usually get their glasses within a week.
Primbs, who’s an ophthalmologist in his 80s, makes sure there is nothing pathologically wrong with the children, meaning that there aren’t any diseases involved. If there are, he follows through with local eye surgeons to prevent blindness in the patients.
Feldman, together with his son and store crew, assists the visitors during the event.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Ricky Bridges, general manager of the Eyewear Factory and an 11-year employee. He noted that even though he’s on vacation right now, he felt the need to come down to the store to help out.