Australia’s ophthalmic community has rallied around people hardest hit by the bushfire crisis, with practices offering free spectacle replacements and organisations pledging more than $100,000.
The commitments are just some examples of the sector’s contribution to the disaster response after independent Queensland optometrist Richard Watt and his wife Gwen launched the ‘Adopt a Fire Family’ initiative earlier this week.
Eyecare Plus Bairnsdale, in Victoria, and Hannaford Eyewear, an optometry practice in Bowral, New South Wales (NSW), are offering free glasses to people who have lost their homes and belongings in the disaster. The offer has been extended to emergency services personnel who have damaged eyewear.
Specsavers optical stores will also provide immediate replacement frames and lenses for directly affected customers. Stores with audiology services will supply replacement hearing aid batteries.
The optical chain will commit to donating $5 from every sale in January, up to $100,000 to support bushfire relief appeals.
The funds are in addition to $18,000 it donated to The Salvation Army’s Disaster Appeal in December to support the communities in New South Wales and Queensland.
The $100,000 is to be split across several local organisations including the NSW Rural Fire Service, Victorian Bushfire Relief Appeal, SA State Emergency Relief Fund, and the Salvation Army Disaster Appeal.
Meanwhile, on Thursday the Optical Distributors and Manufacturers Association (ODMA), which owns the Eyetalk Reference Guide, vowed to donate $10,000 to a cause.
ODMA Eyetalk is now asking its subscribers and supporters to help it decide which fire appeal to donate to. As potential options, it has identified the Red Cross Disaster & Relief Recovery, the Salvation Army Bushfire Appeal, RSPCA Bushfire Appeal and WIRES Wildlife Rescue.
The organisation is holding a vote on this website until Tuesday 14 January, with the funds to be transferred the following day.
“ODMA’s thoughts go out to the families, and communities that have lost so much in the devastating bushfires across the entire country, including NSW, Victoria, South Australia, and Queensland, that have caused 24 deaths and destroyed or damaged a staggering number of homes and properties – and it is not over yet,” an ODMA statement said.
“As members of the optical community, in this time of great tragedy we need to do all we can to assist those impacted by the bushfires who have lost so much. We also know many practices and wholesalers are already involved in assistance packages.
“As there is probably no individual left who has not contributed to the bush fire appeals we are not asking our community to donate but to help us decide where ODMA Eyetalk should donate $10,000 on behalf of our entire community.”
The East Gippsland community of Bairnsdale, which is on the edge of the declared disaster zone in Victoria, has also been working to support victims and evacuees. Approximately 300 homes have been lost across the state and three people have died.
Eyecare Plus Bairnsdale is supporting victims with free replacement spectacles. The initiative is part of a partnership with Rodenstock Australia, which is providing frames and lenses free of charge to some practices in affected areas.
Practice manager Ms Rebecca Touch told Insight the practice had provided free glasses to three fire-affected patients so far, with at least three more booked in for appointments. The practice, which launched the initiative on 20 December, serves an area comprising at least 40,000 people.
“It’s been quite surprising, we didn’t expect people to inquire and pop in for another two or three weeks or be thinking about their glasses at this stage,” she said.
“It’s nice to do our part and a lot of people have been supportive of the cause,” she said.
Eyecare Plus national business development manager Mr Philip Rose said network’s practices located in the towns of Taree, Forster, Tuncurry and Gloucester had previously committed to the same campaign after earlier bushfires and would continue to do so.
He added that Eyecare Plus still had practices in the midst of the extreme fire zone in Moruya, Merimbula and Bega. The company will help these practices implement similar programs for their communities in future if they wished to do so.
Hannaford Eyewear announced it is also teaming up with Rodenstock Australia to help patients impacted by the fires.
“Many homes have been lost and while we can’t replace everything, we can help out with replacement glasses,” it stated on its Facebook page.
“This offer is of course extended to our incredible emergency service workers and firefighters who may have had their spectacles damaged in the course of protecting us.
“We are incredibly grateful to the team at Rodenstock Australia for their generosity. This is the Australian spirit and together we will all work together to see better times.”