DESERET NEWS: As pandemic increases need, Utah-based nonprofit Eye Care 4 Kids ready to double its capacity

MIDVALE — Nonprofit Eye Care 4 Kids on Monday broke ground on an expansion of its Utah clinic that officials say will double the number of children it can serve.

“There are approximately 50,000 children that start school every August and they’re not getting a vision screening, they’re not getting an eye examination and they’re not getting glasses,” nonprofit founder Joseph Carbone told the Deseret News.

“Mostly because their families cannot afford it. Their families are deciding whether they’ll pay for the rent, or we’ll buy food and things like that, and so they’ll go without eye care,” he explained, citing state data.

And the pandemic has exacerbated that need, Carbone said.

“Because of the COVID pandemic, there are so many people that have lost their jobs, they’re unemployed, and are struggling because of this. We will see a great increase in the number of children that we will see. And we’ve opened up our doors to the families of these children, so if their mom and dad need help, we’ll help them the same way. ... And so we feel we’re a vital part of COVID relief.”

The addition to the Midvale clinic at 6911 South State is expected to be completed in October. The program’s mobile clinics visit rural areas, where many don’t have access to affordable eye care. Officials, including Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, Dr. Marc Babitz, deputy director of the Utah Department of Health, and Midvale Mayor Robert Hale attended the groundbreaking on Monday.

Nineteen years ago, Carbone and his wife began the program thinking “maybe we would help 100 children a year.”

But since then, Eye Care 4 Kids has exploded into a multistate nonprofit that has helped 300,000 and donated $90 million in eye care services. It also has clinics in Las Vegas, Phoenix and Newark, New Jersey.

Carbone said the service “bridges a very vital gap.”

If a child can’t see well, they’re not going to be able read properly, and if they can’t read, they’re not going to be able to learn as well as other students. If they’re not going to learn, they’ll often end up in the judicial system as they get older, Carbone said, quoting Reyes’ message during the groundbreaking.

“It’s a very vital part of a child’s education, comprehension, reading,” Carbone noted.

The program is funded by donations from individuals, family foundations and corporations.

Eye Care 4 Kids is currently holding a campaign to raise enough money to give 1,000 kids an eye examination and pair of glasses this August. Those interested can donate $35, which will provide the service for one child.

“This is a team sport. We need all of our clinicians and we need the community all to get together to do this,” Carbone said.

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