Burrillville Lions & BVT school collaboration brings new eyeglass collection box to Slatersville Brigido’s

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From left are Brigido's Director of Operations Michael Fernandez; Burrillville Lions Club President Tom Tatro; BVT Supt. & Director Michael Fitzpatrick; Lions Club members Dennis Laboissonniere, Richard Nolan and Gregg Devlin, and Slatersville Brigido's store manager Edie Langlois.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Shoppers at Slatersville Plaza will have a new and convenient place to drop off old eyeglasses for recycling, thanks to a collaboration between the Burrillville Lions Club and students at Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School.

Representatives from the club, the high school and the supermarket that donated space gathered at Brigido’s Fresh Market at 800 Victory Highway to officially place a new eyeglass collection box by the store entryway. Through the Recycle for Sight program, Lions across the globe utilize such boxes to collect eyeglasses and sunglasses, used to help bring clear vision to those in need.

The unique and brightly-colored box placed in Slatersville was custom designed and built by BVT students through a multi-year program that involved several different departments at the Upton, Mass.-based school.

“It went through all different stages, from design, to fabrication, to welding, to painting,” explained Lions Club member Gregg Devlin.

The effort came about after Devlin met BVT Supt. & Director Michael Fitzpatrick at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast. The Burrillville Lions Club has had a large collection box at the Brigido’s store in Pascoag for decades – created by refurbishing a retired U.S. Postal Service mailbox.

Club members hoped to place a similar one in Slatersville, but the postal service no longer allows their boxes to be recycled – in part out of fear customers will mistakenly deposit mail. Devlin mentioned the Lions initiative to Fitzpatrick.

“It took off from there,” Devlin said.

Vocational Director Matthew Connors worked with Devlin to see what was needed, then had the BVT Drafting & Design Technology Department create plans.

“Once the plans were finalized, they were sent to the Advanced Manufacturing & Fabrication Department, where the pieces were cut and assembled,” Connors explained.

From there, the project moved over to the Automotive Collision Repair & Refinishing program for cleaning, degreasing, final prep work and paint – in the Lions’ bright, signature colors. The Painting & Design Technology Department applied the appropriate decals, before the project went back to manufacturing to be completed with the BVT logo plate.

“A request of this nature for an organization as respected as the Lions and others – our students are eager to embrace,” said Fitzpatrick. “The students take it on as a whole venture, an endeavor.”

Such projects, he noted, are put in electronic portfolios, later used by students applying to jobs and colleges.

“The variety of projects is quite impressive, but this is an example,” Fitzpatrick said.

Michael Fernandez, who purchased the three-store grocery chain from the Brigido’s family last year, said his business was happy to help.

“This store has been part of the community and the areas that it serves for over 30 years,” Fernandez said. “All I want to do is be part of that – to take our name, and our stores, and my family that I integrated into the state of Rhode Island, – and take that one step further.”

“You can utilize our stores if there’s anything that can be done to help,” he added. “You can count on us, and our staff and our stores, to be part of that.”

Burrillville Lions President Tom Tatro said that the collection initiative aims to expand his club’s efforts to better serve the North Smithfield community. Around 12 years ago, the North Smithfield Lions Club retired their charter, with remaining members joining forces with the Burrillville group.

“One of the things we do is eyesight conservation,” said Tatro. “We collect glasses, which are taken apart, and parts are used all over the world in different activities to help people have glasses who otherwise may not.”

It is a modern and streamlined version of a challenge first presented nearly 100 years ago by Helen Keller at a Lions Clubs International Convention, where she asked members of the charitable group to become “knights of the blind.”

“We also use some of our funds to help get eye care for people,” Tatro explained.

The box itself has attracted the attention of the larger statewide club, with various charters hoping to replicate the project.

“This is the culmination, really, of years worth of work that we’re all very proud of: the Lions for instigating this, the school district for doing their marvelous work, and Brigido’s for being receptive enough to take one on here, like they did in Pascoag,” said Tatro.

“It’s here to be used,” Tatro added. “It’s a good neighbor kind of project for a good cause.”

“It’s heartwarming,” agreed Fitzpatrick. “This is a great experience for the youth in giving to the community and helping other people, and they feel good about it. We’re delighted to be part of it.”

The first donation: Pennie Cushing of Harrisville donates glasses in the new collection box.

Editor’s note: Publisher Sandy Hall is a member of the Burrillville Lions Club.

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