By Preston Fassel

For the optical world, the coming of Christmas has always had its own unique significance: the encroaching end of the year and people rushing to use up their insurance and FSA benefits. Back when I was dispensing, there was always a tug-of-war about whether to stay open on Christmas Eve, and those years that we did, the day was invariably one of our busiest of the year, perhaps second only to when the day before New Year’s Eve fell on a Saturday. Between folks realizing their benefits are about to roll over, that they may lose that Flex money, and the rare bird who got some holiday cash and actually wants to drop it on RXable eyewear, the end of December means a potential bonanza for the enterprising brick and mortar optical. Just as so many retailers begin prepping for the December holidays, so too do many dispensaries begin putting together their own end-of-year plans, from potential specials to entice patients to holiday scheduling.

Hanukkah, of course, is a big part of year end festivities. While most people are familiar with the image of dreidels and Hanukkiah (the eight-branched candelabra used in holiday celebrations; properly, it’s only a Menorah if it has seven), there’s one piece of Judaica often incorporated into Hanukkah most folks aren’t aware of called a Tzedakah Box. Often silver and either cubic or cylindrical but taking on many forms, the Tzedakah Box is something of a reverse piggybank. Jews will use it to collect spare change they accrue, and, when it’s full, we’ll donate it to some charitable organization. The Tzedakah box is meant to keep us mindful of those in the world less fortunate than we, who could benefit from our help, no matter how large or small, and plays into the Jewish concept of tikkun olam—a mandate to “repair the world.” And thinking about how we prepare for the holidays, and thinking about Tzedakah boxes, got me thinking about a different kind of box I see far too infrequently in dispensaries.

A Lion’s Club donation box.

Every year, the Lion’s Club is responsible for the collection, repair, and redistribution of countless donated eyeglasses to those in need. For many individuals, it’s one of the only avenues they have to vision correction. A wholly volunteer organization, the Lion’s Club is made up of people who take time out from their own schedules to essentially do what we do for a living, measuring RXs, making adjustments and repairs, and making sure their patients get their best possible vision. It’s only made possible through the generosity of those volunteers—and those who donate their own used eyeglasses.

This year, with our thoughts turned to Santa Claus and BOGO sales, I’d like to encourage every practice manager or OD reading this to consider their own form of Tzedakah Box in the leadup to the holidays. For the final months of the year, set up a Lion’s Club donation bin in a place of prominence and encourage patients to donate their usable eyewear. Is someone getting a new pair of frames and lenses? Inquire if they have more than one backup pair at home and how many RXs old they are. Did someone get LASIK or cataract surgery? Encourage them to donate. Maybe even see if you can set up a program with a frames manufacturer where they’ll donate a pair of frames for every X pairs a patient buys, even if it’s not a 1:1 ratio. Then, as the year comes to a close, do your own Tzedakah run and donate to your local chapter. (DO NOT try mailing them. Several years ago, even with insurance and tracking, I lost an entire box worth of old frames and lenses dating back almost a decade when I tried sending them to a chapter via USPS. The box vanished from a distribution center, pilfered, I suspect, by someone who recognized the Lion’s Club name on the label and thought there could be designer frames inside.)

The end of the year is often called “giving season.” This year, I’m encouraging everyone reading this to set up a Lion’s Club box in their practice and take steps to help give the gift of sight to those who need it most.