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NSW eyecare practices pitch in on bushfire efforts

Eyecare Plus practices located in and near some of the regions hardest hit by the recent New South Wales bushfires have banded together to offer free glasses to affected communities.

Practices located in the towns of Taree, Forster, Tuncurry and Gloucester have committed to providing free pairs of glasses to anyone who has lost their home.

Speaking to Insight, Taree optometrist Mr Peter McKay said the idea for the initiative came from fellow Eyecare Plus optometrist and practice owner Mr Dale Rolfe.

“I jumped on board straight away and initially Dale and I were going to fund it ourselves, but then a couple of our suppliers, Rimoptics, Tiger Vision and Hoya, assisted with it by giving us some discounted product.”

“At that point we just put out some social media posts about it just encouraging people who had lost everything to come talk to us and we could sort them out with some glasses.”

Five people have taken advantage of the offer so far, but McKay expects that to change.

“It’s actually less than we thought it would be, but we expect there will be a few more that trickle in over the next couple of weeks, just as people get back on their feet and move from bare necessities to picking up the pieces and trying to get their life back in order.”

Eyecare Plus is one of several retailers in the local community working on charity initiatives, with a produce store offering free fencing supplies and a vet treating animal burns at no cost. Many of the region’s stores have suffered.

“When the fires were at their peak, we cancelled three days’ worth of appointments because we couldn’t actually get to work, or all our patients would cancel,” McKay said.

“It’s been like that for lots of other businesses. We had this one day, which was a Tuesday. Normally the main street would be bustling but was like a ghost town just because people couldn’t get around.”

Some Eyecare Plus staff in the region have also had a direct hand in fighting fires. McKay said one of his staff, who is training as a firefighter with the New South Wales Fire service, has been filling air tanks at the local station.

Sarah Williams, an optical assistant who works across Eyecare Plus practices throughout the Central Coast region, told Insight her employers have been very supportive of her work with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS).

“Dale and the Eyecare Plus managers in head office, that day when it was the catastrophic fire conditions, they approved me to have the day off work,” Williams said.

“Knowing that I was helping the community they said they couldn’t say no.”