On a recent Friday in Pogo Park, some kids lined up for the popular zipline ride. Others played in the sand bowl. But the parents — mostly mothers — waited by the clubhouse for three opticians to set up shop.
“The key word is ‘free glasses’,” said Lupe Pulido, the Pogo Park employee who coordinated the event. Vision to Learn, the nonprofit that held eyewear fittings at Pogo Park that Friday, provides exams and free glasses to anyone under 18.
Their events typically attract a couple dozen youth, Eric Barcenas, a Vision to Learn optician said. But their partnership with Pogo Park brought in 232 kids during screenings in August and September. Of those, 91 were prescribed free glasses.
Mother of four Maria Martinez said that Vision to Learn saved her life this year. She has three daughters, who each need glasses, costing up to $500 a pop, she estimated. This year, with a new baby who’s kept her from working full time, Martinez said she didn’t know what she would do without the free glasses.
Makayla Kinnard, 11, went a year-and-a-half without glasses after she grew out of her last pair, her mother Denise Frazier said. Since, Kinnard has neglected doing her readings and had a hard time seeing the board in school.
“I have to go up to the front of the room, I have to stand up and look at the board just to find the answer or the question” she said.
Vision to Learn’s mission is to ensure kids have access to glasses to improve school performance, said Eric Barcenas, an optician who worked at the September 29 event.
Schools already provide free vision screenings, but there is no follow-up, let alone free eyewear.
One mother, Flor Pedraza, learned from the school last year that her daughter might need glasses. But she was deterred from getting them: first because she lost her medical card, then because she couldn’t reach a provider, and so on, she explained. At the September 29 event, both her daughters Mia, 7, and Grecia, 4, got glasses for the first time.
Vision isn’t covered by the local Contra Costa Medi-Cal plan, and only one provider in Richmond accepts state payments. And as kids grow out of glasses or lose them, it becomes difficult for parents to find the time and money to constantly replace them.
“The Bay Area has a high population of immigrants that may not have benefits, or don’t even know how the benefits work,” Barcenas said. “We come in to fill some of those gaps.”
Vision to Learn doesn’t even turn away kids that already own glasses, Barcenas said. For students like Jaquelin Sanchez, 15, who said she had been without glasses since she lost hers at school last year, those few blurry months could have been avoided with a second pair.
Vision to Learn has held other events in Richmond, but the Pogo Park screening was the first to attract such a large turnout. According to Barcenas, events don’t usually exceed 30 people. According to Pulido, there were families that came from as far as Pittsburg and San Leandro.
“Pogo Park staff has been really on point in terms of getting the people here, getting them informed, and being as thorough as possible,” Barcenas said.
As children streamed in and out of the clubhouse to pick up new glasses, Pogo Park employee Eddie Doss leaned down to check out the kids’ new specs.
“You gonna get some good grades?” Doss asked each passing child. The kids smiled and nodded.