By Kerri Regan
DAN’S OPTICAL MAKES GLASSES FOR THE HOMELESS
Story: Kerri Regan Photo: Betsy Erickson
They line up by the dozens, peering at Dan Waldrop from behind taped-up glasses, cracked lenses or reading spectacles from the dollar store. Some simply squint, because they have no glasses at all.
Many folks take clear sight for granted, but it is a priceless gift for the poverty-stricken people who line up at Dan’s Optical’s booth during Project Homeless Connect. Organized by Northern Valley Catholic Social Services, the annual springtime event is a one-stop gathering for people who are homeless (or at risk of becoming homeless). They get help with services like housing, employment, medical care, benefits, legal assistance and pet care. They can pick up personal hygiene items, get their hair cut and get identification.
And thanks to Waldrop, they can also receive custom-made prescription eyeglasses. He’s been providing the service since Project Homeless Connect began four years ago, and of the 90 vendors who participated last year, just two - Dan’s Optical and Marinello Schools of Beauty - were private businesses, according to event coordinator Jessica Delaney.
“My business was young and I wasn’t entirely busy,” Waldrop says. “I offered what I do daily, which is making prescription eyewear on site. The turnout was amazing.”
In fact, it was one of the most popular services at the event, which “gave perspective on how the service is needed for patients who are homeless or in poverty,” says Delaney. Last year, 126 people walked away with new glasses. Most get their glasses the same day, while those who need bifocals or other specialized lenses receive a RABA bus voucher so they can pick them up the next day.
“It’s the gift of sight,” Waldrop says. “When you give someone something as personal as the ability to see, they show you a genuine sense of appreciation.”
Waldrop, a medically licensed optician, makes eyewear at the only wholesale optical lab north of Paradise. It’s a career path that started when he landed a job at Lenscrafters after graduating from Central Valley High School. While attending Chico State University, he managed the Red Bluff Vision Center. He soon realized that there was money to be made in selling glasses and that he didn’t want to spend his days in an exam room, so he switched his emphasis to manufacturing.
He managed a retail optical department and then an ophthalmologist’s surgical office, and soon had an opportunity to buy some eyewear manufacturing equipment. “I started my business out of my spare bedroom in my apartment on Hilltop,” he says. Twelve years ago, he moved into his current office in Shasta Lake.
During Project Homeless Connect, he donates his labor, expertise and equipment to the cause, while private donations cover the cost of the raw materials for the glasses. Not a penny goes into his pocket on what is certainly the busiest day of his year.
Once those glasses are on the bridge of a person’s nose, the world opens up. “They’re able to fill out a DMV application for identification; they can read a flyer to find out where to get food,” says Waldrop, the father of two young children. “Can you really put a price on the value of sight?”
Delaney agrees. “It’s an absolute gift to the community,” she says. “When a child living in a motel or tent can walk away and see that day, that’s heartwarming.”
Dan’s Optical • (530) 275-8581 4624 Shasta Dam Boulevard • Shasta Lake