Optical Community Helps Those Devastated by Tornadoes in Oklahoma

MOORE, Okla.—As this suburb of Oklahoma City digs out from tornado devastation earlier this week, members of the optical community in the region and throughout the country have stepped in to help those in need.

The Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians (OAOP) released a statement that its members in the Moore area are safe and accounted for in the wake of Monday’s deadly tornado, although “some have lost everything.”

“This was the third time a tornado has come to our office,” said Max Venard, OD, who practices in Moore. “We were about 10 blocks south of the May 3, 1999 tornado, and we had debris all over our property. This time, the tornado came through about 10 blocks south of me. One employee lost her home and lost everything, so we’re making sure she gets taken care of. We’re all in this together,” he told VMail, explaining that this pertains to professional relationships as well as personal ones. “Colleagues called me to say, ‘Use my equipment, whatever you need.’”

A VSP spokesperson told VMail, “VSP has spoken with four of the seven VSP doctor offices located in Moore with voicemails left for the other three. Fortunately, those we have spoken with directly have little damage noted so far. Some of the offices are closed due to no water or phone and roads around offices being blocked for the rescue. However, the practices are communicating with their patients that VSP will be able to replace any glasses that have been lost or damaged.”

Gary Black, founder and president of Black Optical with locations in Tulsa, Okla. and Oklahoma City, said that his store did not receive any damage and will be working with their brands, labs and local PBA chapter, Prevent Blindness Oklahoma, to assist anyone in need of eyecare. Black cited donations from brands he carries such as 141 Eyewear, which is sending a selection of kids’ frames, Barton Perreira, from whom he has received around 200 frames, and others from designers such as Selima Optique, Salt, and Garret Leight. Additionally, Black Optical’s lab affiliates will be donating their services. According to Black, the two labs that service his dispensary, E.Magine Optical in Tulsa, Okla., and Sutherlin Optical in Kansas City, Mo., will be providing an uncapped number of lenses to Black Optical until further notice.

Optical and lab manager Taylor Oliphant of Advanced Family Eyecare, a Vision Source practice in Oklahoma City, is spearheading an effort to provide eyecare and eyewear to those in need. He told VMail, “13,000 homes were destroyed, and 33,000 people were affected, so we don’t know how big this is going to be yet.” Donations he’s received so far include tens of thousands of dollars of equipment, upwards of 2,500 frames, safety goggles for people rebuilding their homes, and other non-optical help like food and toys.

“After it had just happened,” said Oliphant, “I got in the car with my office manager [Leta Forrester], and she said, ‘Let’s do something.’ Within 24 hours we had a location and six doctors committed. We put a post on Facebook, and three of my frame reps responded. In 48 hours, I’ve spoken with the president of Gerber Coburn, the president of OptiSource, and we’ve also had a ton of help from Michael Conway, the Essilor rep for the Southwest region. We’ve also gotten calls from practices in Tulsa and Arkansas that are closing for at least a day and bringing their staff to help.”

Those relief efforts will take place next week from Tuesday through Friday at the Graceway Baptist Church here, where three rooms will be set up, one for eye trauma, one for contact lenses and one for eyeglasses. Companies are providing lenses for Oliphant to edge on the spot. “Zeiss and Essilor are in collaboration so that all of their labs are going to run jobs until they can’t run them anymore for anyone who needs them,” said Oliphant. “Everyone’s coming together. People are driving from all over.” Some 25 doctors have already signed on to help staff the facility.

The list of vendors making donations continues growing and currently includes Wilson Ophthalmic, Precision Vision, California Accessories, Essilor, Gerber Coburn, Opti-Source, Spy Eyewear, Marcolin, Live Eyewear, Europa, ClearVision, OGI, Texas State Optical, Interstate Optical, Hilco, Team Effort, Duffins Optical, A & A Optical, Carl Zeiss Vision, Alcon, Bausch + Lomb, Vistakon, Coopervision, Ciba, and the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians.

Spy Optics made a T-shirt reading “Happy to Help” in reference to the Spy Happy lens, and the company is donating a large portion of online store profits to the Moore Community Center.

Many others are stepping up to help as well. According to the OAOP, Modern Eyes is donating discounted frames, Alcon is sending a shipment of product, Acuity Pro can loan copies of its eye testing software for use on laptops, Europa is donating replacement frames, and TLC is offering its offices for any doctors who need them. Local ECPs providing free eyecare services for tornado victims include Dana Garber, OD, Vision Source OKC South, Fulton EyeCare Center, and Kenneth Guthrie, OD.

Another Vision Source practice in Midwest City, Okla., is taking and matching donations in its office and placed a notice on its Facebook page.

In addition, a VSP spokesperson told VMail, “As practices continue to survey their needs over this week, they will advise if there will be a need to deploy a mobile clinic and/or provide our portable lanes of ophthalmic equipment. We are doing the same with the OAOP and the Northeastern State University School of Optometry. Additionally, as the American Red Cross official eyecare partner, we have provided, at their request, close to 500 gift certificates to date for them to distribute to those residents who need eyecare and glasses.”

This is all in addition to other disaster relief efforts being provided by Optometry Cares – The AOA Foundation and OneSight, as reported by VMail earlier this week. 

Gary Black of Black Optical summed up the response to the catastrophe: “A lot of people have come together to help us without asking. It’s overwhelming, in a great way.”