After discovering a need for eyeglasses in Mexico, a local ministry is helping people see clearly again.
The Concord Baptist Church eyeglass ministry takes about five trips a year to Mexico to help those who can't afford eyeglasses. In November, the group held a clinic in Santa Maria Acapulco, Mexico, giving out more than 275 pairs of eyeglasses, said Larry Merry, leader of the ministry trip.
The three-day clinic normally gives out more than 800 eyeglasses during each trip, but the number was smaller on this last trip because the village was small and tucked away in the mountains, Merry said.
Now in its ninth year, the eyeglass ministry expects to see its 40,000th patient, he added.
The majority of the eyeglasses are from Saving Sight, a regional nonprofit that processes glasses collected by Missouri Lion Clubs. After processing the glasses, Saving Sight gives them to Merry for the ministry trips.
Eyeglasses are considered a luxury in Mexico, and the majority of people there have never owned glasses because they could not afford them, Merry said. When the eyeglass ministry hosts its three-day clinic, people line up several hours before it opens to ensure they receive free eyeglasses.
In some cases, Merry said, providing eyeglasses helps people get jobs, finish school and become more independent.
In one case, a woman in her 40s went back to high school after receiving eyeglasses. She was originally told she could not enroll because of her poor eyesight.
"She was really excited because, at 40 years old, she was going to go back to school and finish her school," he said. "That was a goal she wanted to accomplish, and she never would have accomplished that if we had not brought her a pair of eyeglasses because she couldn't afford them."
In another case, a 98-year-old father was able to better care for his son, who was bound to a wheelchair, after receiving eyeglasses.
Merry described the smiles he received when he gave eyeglasses to children, adding these different situations are common.
After going to Mexico in 2009 with a medical clinic, Merry said, he thought there was more that could be done, so he started offering the eyeglass clinic.
"When you put eyeglasses on people who can't see, suddenly their whole world opens up to them and you really change their lives because this is just a blessing to them," he said. "You really improve their lives and get an awesome reaction — a big smile, a big hug and a thank you. It's really just something to experience, and it's a fun thing to do."
Those who want to donate eyeglasses can drop them off at Concord Baptist Church, 3724 W. Truman Blvd. in Jefferson City, or at the Lion Club's boxes around town.