Local farmworkers benefit from free eye exams
The future may be looking clearer for some farm workers in Washington County, after they received free eye exams and glasses earlier this month — many for the first time.
Organized by the Western Farm Workers Association, a volunteer-driven organization assisting low-income farm and seasonal workers, the annual "Optical Session" was held at the Hillsboro United Methodist Church, 168 N.E. Eighth Ave., on Saturday, Nov. 10.
The optical sessions formed from a partnership between the Western Farm Workers Association and Kaiser Permanente. This year, six optometrists, five opticians and one opthamologist from Kaiser volunteered to examine and treat around 100 adults and children in the region. Kaiser also donated glasses to those in need — 86 people in all.
It all began in 2004 when the need was brought to the attention of one of Kaiser's former optometrists, said Thomas Gibbs, a current Kaiser optometrist who quickly jumped on board and has participated in the clinics since the beginning.
"I saw a need, and (said), 'Why would I not?'" Gibbs said, "We have been doing it since then."
In 2004, Kaiser employees carted equipment to an apartment complex's recreation room and started conducting free eye exams and writing prescriptions for WFWA members there, Gibbs said.
"It just grew from there," he said. "There are more members of the Western Farm Workers Association every year, and they are all in need because they are all low-income workers who have barely enough money for rent, let alone (eye exams). Some of them are truly migrant workers, but most of them are local residents. More than half of their income goes to their dwelling, so they just don't have enough money for anything else."
Some, Gibbs said, need more help than just a pair of glasses.
"Now and again, people will come in who have more of a need than just eye glasses," Gibbs explained. "They might need cataract surgery, or glaucoma and treatment for different eye pathologies, so we try to arrange with either other at-risk clinics in the region or Kaiser Permanente has donated cataract surgery as well to the people in need."
The work is funded through the Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit Program, Gibbs said, but it takes more than that to make it all happen.
"The work that the Western Farm Workers Association does, this is only a small piece of what they provide for people in need, so they are the ones that really need to be highlighted," he said.
Western Farm Workers Association operations manager Leecia Anderson said her organization has been working to better the lives of low-income workers for three decades.
"WFWA is a free and voluntary private, unincorporated membership association made up of farm workers, landscapers, childcare workers, restaurant workers and others who are the backbone of the local economy," she said.
The WFWA also offers members access to a free self-help benefit program. The program offers emergency food, clothing, preventive medical care, legal advice and more to members, the organization stated.
By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
Follow Olivia at @oliviasingerr
Subscribe to our E-News and get the week's top stories in your inbox
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It can cost as little as 3 cents a day.)