Saturday, February 17 , 2018, 11:24 am | Fair 66º


Local News

Santa Barbara Eyeglass Factory Puts Focus on Children

At Sunday's Kid's Day event, children can receive the gift of sight with free eye exams and glasses

The Santa Barbara Eyeglass Factory gave away its first pair of glasses to an 8-year-old boy at its first Kid’s Day 15 years ago. Owner Rick Feldman asked the boy what the glasses meant to him.

“Well, now I can see,” he replied.

Feldman said children have an uncanny ability to accommodate — they strain and manage to see, and sometimes even cheat the system to pass eye screenings at school.

“It’s amazing when you see somebody wear glasses for the first time and how they react to that,” he said. “He didn’t know what the world looked like. ... It made me (and our staff) feel like a million bucks.”

Kid’s Day, hosted by the Santa Barbara Eyeglass Factory and supported by an array of nonprofits, showcases the year-round “Right to Sight” program, which donated more than 1,000 eye exams and pairs of glasses to children last year.

The next event will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at the Eyeglass Factory, 1 S. Milpas St., and will include free eye exams, free physicals courtesy of the American Indian Health & Services and entertainment.

“Kids, veterans, college students, homeless — anyone who needs vision care and can’t afford it will be taken care of,” Feldman said. “It’s ridiculous we live in a city with this kind of wealth that has a problem addressing eye care and glasses.”

When Feldman came to Santa Barbara from the East Coast in 1994, he planned to retire. But when he heard from local school nurse Debbie Pentland that Santa Barbara County ranks 56th out of California’s 58 counties in terms of uninsured children, he established the factory. And when some eyeglass manufacturers wanted to charge the Lions Sight and Hearing Center $25 per pair, Feldman said he would offer his factory’s eyeglasses for free.

“When he sees something that’s needed, he can’t stop himself. He’s a good egg,” said Pentland, who works at San Marcos High School, La Colina Junior High and Open Alternative School. “Lions Club couldn’t believe he was going to give them for free.”

For more than 15 years, Rick Feldman and his Santa Barbara Eyeless Factory have been hosting Kid's Day to ensure all children, regardless of family income and health insurance, have access to eye care.
For more than 15 years, Rick Feldman and his Santa Barbara Eyeless Factory have been hosting Kid’s Day to ensure all children, regardless of family income and health insurance, have access to eye care. (Valorie Smith / Noozhawk photo)

Surgical Eye Expeditions (SEE) International, a company that gives people in Third World countries treatment and sight through cataract surgery, will help administer eye exams on Kid’s Day.

“It’s great to help kids in the community who don’t have access to care,” SEEI development associate Gena Pratt said. “We get calls from parents whose kids can’t see well and their grades are suffering because they get headaches and tired and don’t feel very smart.

“(Rick) is so generous and does so much. To take the time to do this and truly make a difference in a kid’s life is inspiring.”

Sunday’s event is slated to begin at 9 a.m., but parents and children arrive as early as 6:30 a.m.

“It really tears at your heart because they want to do right thing by their kids and they don’t have the means to do it,” Feldman said.

A team of practitioners will address their vision needs on Kid’s Day, then they will receive a coupon to take to the Eyeglass Factory for an exam and eyeglasses.

“It’s a time to focus on the kids and make them a priority for one day of the year,” Feldman said. “I want people to understand the need for eye care, especially among the youth who cannot achieve their full potential otherwise. ... Kids are our future. If they can’t see the blackboard, they move further away from the teacher and have behavioral problems.”

But Kid’s Day extends beyond eye care. The Clinic on Wheels, sponsored and staffed by American Indian Health & Services, offers free physicals and complete health care through the Gateway Health Insurance program. Kids often have a doctor’s appointment set up within a week, Feldman said.

“To get insured is usually cumbersome,” Pentland said. “When you get the paperwork, it’s overwhelming and you have to renew once a year, and many families don’t have time.”

Parents also can learn about proper nutrition and how to prevent diabetes, and children can receive dental check-ups and hearing screenings.

“People with no health care wind up in an emergency room, and they are keeping the ER from doing its primary job because they don’t have insurance,” Feldman said.

The Clinic on Wheels is something families can access and depend on, Pentland said.

She said she hopes to see health care effectively integrated, modeling the Lions Sight and Hearing Center. Once the schools identify children’s needs, a family without health insurance can fill out one piece of paper and are referred to a doctor who administers an exam for $15. Then, the family can go to the Eyeglass Factory for a free pair of glasses.

Other organizations involved in Kid’s Day include the Milpas Community Association, the Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice, Unity Shoppe, Transition House, Casa Esperanza, the Santa Barbara Police Department and the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

For SEE Internation department director Kim Whelton, Sunday will be her fifth year attending the event. She said she appreciates the local impact because her company is largely international, and to know it has a hand in helping a local child succeed in school is rewarding.

“Rick is a very generous person, a wonderful individual who gives quite a bit back to community and doesn’t take any credit for it,” Whelton said.

Pratt said the event is just in time.

“Now they can stay up and have a better chance to see Santa,” she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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