Lions Club Continues Helen Keller’s Crusade Against Darkness

Story and Photos by Diane Andrews

Like any hungry pride of lions, the Santa Clara Host Lions Club often hangs out where the food is. One of the 70-year-old nonprofit’s varied services to the local community is driving its cook trailer around town to cook for nonprofits having fundraisers.

“Organizations supply the food, and we show up and cook,” said Lions member Susan Polito at a fundraising breakfast at Westwood Elementary School in Santa Clara on Dec. 9, 2017. It was before 8 a.m. and the Lions were casually scrambling 24 dozen eggs, flipping pancakes and frying bacon and sausage.

“It’s hard to get volunteers that know how to cook this much food,” said member Tabitha Kappeler-Hurley.

You can spot the cook trailer, custom made by members, at Little League Baseball games, PAL tournaments and the American Cancer Society Relay for Life. Every September it’s at the Santa Clara Art and Wine Festival, where the Lions grill tri-tip and linguica sandwiches to raise funds for their own causes.

Club local historian John Costere, a 35-year member, was eager to share some of the club’s 70-year history of serving Santa Clara.

Like the Lions Club International, the primary focus of the Santa Clara Lions Club, established in May 1947, is preventing blindness and assisting the blind and visually impaired. It supports blind eye dogs, K9 companions and the collection and refurbishment of used eye glasses.

“We collect eye glasses in about 25 places, such as the library and businesses. We collect roughly five to six thousand pairs of glasses a year, also cell phones to give to the senior center. They’re modified for 911 calls and calls to a relative,” said Costere. “For people in need, we try to satisfy that need, whatever it is.”

The eye glasses are taken to the Lions Sight Recycling Center in Vallejo, one of 15 collection centers in the U.S.. Volunteers clean and check the eye glasses for usability. They are machine read for the prescription, then distributed around the world.

The Santa Clara Lions Club supplies equipment for the A.J. Robertson mobile screening trailer, where people can have vision and hearing screenings and be checked for diabetes, which can lead to blindness. It collects used hearing aids for the hearing aid bank of Ear of the Lion in Clovis.

The Lions Club International, said to be the largest volunteer organization in the world, began over a century ago in 1917 in Chicago. Its commitment to aiding the blind and preventing blindness began in 1925 when Helen Keller, herself blind and deaf, attended its convention and challenged the Lions to support the work of the American Foundation for the Blind.

“…help me hasten the day when there shall be no preventable blindness; no little deaf, blind child untaught; no blind man or woman unaided…,” said Keller. “[Become] knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”

“The Lions in Santa Clara are poised to grow. We have a good number of members who know the history and an influx of new members,” said Kappeler-Hurley. “We want to find the type of new activities relevant to people now as well as support the traditional activities.”

One such new project was setting up a dog waste station along the 4.6-mile San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail at Monroe Street and San Tomas Expressway.

“I care about serving the community and providing funding for eye-related efforts. I get gratification from hands on efforts,” said past chapter president Beverly Silva. “I really enjoy the people in Lions. We’re a little family.”

The Santa Clara Host Lions Club, numbering about 30 members, was presented with a citation in recognition of its 70 years of community service by 17th District of California Congress Member Ro Khanna on Dec. 2, 2017, at a Town Hall meeting in San Jose. It was also recognized at a City Council meeting in 2017.

The Lions meet at 6:30 p.m. the second and fourth Thursday of the month at Elks Club # 2347, 1680 Martin Ave., Santa Clara. For information, visit www.santaclarahostlionsclub.com.