By JULIE MARIE BUSH
OBSERVER Staff Writer
"Lions is really about helping," said Dunkirk-Fredonia Lions Club Vice President Judy Cole. "If there is a need in the community, we are there. Our motto is 'We serve.'"
Dunkirk-Fredonia Lions Club members gather at the White Inn Monday for the group’s Valentine’s Day banquet.
The Lions Club is an international organization which was founded in Chicago in 1917 by businessman Melvin Jones. Since the beginning, it has been dedicated to helping those less fortunate in their communities and around the world. Lions Club International accepted a challenge from Helen Keller to become "Knights of the Blind" and the Lions Clubs around the world have been dedicated to this goal in 1925.
Since becoming a part of the Dunkirk-Fredonia community more than 70 years ago, the Lions have been doing their duty to serve countless individuals in the local area. As the Lions make plans for 2012, members reflect on the club's impact on the community over the years, as well as its present and future activities.
LOCAL LIONS HISTORY
The Dunkirk-Fredonia Lions Club was chartered in September 1941, first sponsored by the Jamestown Lions Club.
"Originally, it was just Dunkirk," Past District Governor John Banach said. "We had 50-50 in terms of membership. When I was the president I made a suggestion to have a representation from both communities and change the name to Dunkirk-Fredonia Lions Club. It was a lot of work."
His hard work paid off and since 1966, it has been known as the Dunkirk-Fredonia Lions Club.
"The club started out giving aid to the sight-handicapped," Banach said. "That was the main purpose of why the Lions was formed. Then we went into aid for hearing and we provided hearing aids. Then we expanded to provide support for the physically handicapped with the loan closet. We have canes, crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, potty chairs and shower chairs."
Early projects included civic improvements, such as the purchase and distribution of "Keep Dunkirk Clean" garbage cans and the installation of park benches at Memorial Park.
The first Daisy Sale was conducted in August 1942 as a fundraising event, which in 1960 this campaign was changed to the current White Cane Days in recognition of the national symbol for the blind. During WWII, the club was instrumental in raising more than $1 million in war bonds.
The Lions' Chautauqua County fair stand, one of the club's primary means of raising funds, has been around since 1950s. The original stand was a prefabricated unit that had to be reassembled each year. The current permanent stand was built in 1969. The broom and bulb sale began in 1954. The household corn brooms, durable and lasting for many years, were manufactured by blind and visually impaired workers. Members of the Lions Club would go door-to-door selling the brooms and bulbs to every house in Dunkirk and Fredonia at that time.
HOW THE LIONS HELP
The Dunkirk-Fredonia Lions Club has many service projects that are done continually throughout the year to help those in need throughout the community.
Some of the Lions' programs are potentially life-saving. Longtime member Dr. Paul Carlson spoke of a smoke alarm project he was involved in.
With the team effort of Rural Ministries, the local fire departments and DFT who helped pitch in money 100 smoke alarms and 50 carbon monoxide alarms were purchased and distributed.
"You don't realize how important these are until something happens," Carlson said. "Houses in this area are getting older and they are more prone to fires."
The club collects various items for people in need, contained in the "loan closet," the location of which is in flux. Items are currently being stored by Banach and Keith Sheldon, but the Lions are working to find a central location.
"It's a matter of calling up or knowing a member," Banach said of the loan closet. "I'll get a call from saying saying they have a wheelchair they don't need anymore and would like to donate it to someone that can use it. Instead of taking them someplace I take them in myself."
Another service project that the Lions are very dedicated to is providing eyeglasses to people in the community.
"Anywhere from 500 to 1,000 eyeglasses are collected each year," Banach said. "They are processed at a company in New Jersey. There they are checked for prescription and size and distributed to people who can't afford them. Lions members who are doctors volunteer their time and distribute them at no cost."
Vision screenings are provided for preschool to kindergarten age children. The primary goal is to identify children who have amblyopia, commonly known as "lazy eye," which is the leading cause of monocular blindness in children. Although amblyopia can cause lifelong vision loss in the affected eye, it can be treated if it is found early enough.
"We work for Project See for the Chautauqua Blind Association and we do eye screenings," Judy said. "As they come in, they are screened for eye problems. This little machine can pick up so the kids can just look at the camera and it will detect any problems they may have. Those are sent into the eye institute and analyzed. The schools and parents get a call back if there is a problem."
In addition, the screenings can identify children who may have farsightedness, near-sightedness or astigmatism, which are all problems that can result in learning difficulties if not detected and treated. A series of miniature golf tournaments were held to raise funds specifically for the purpose of this $4,000 state-of-the-art screening device.
The White Cane Days will be held on April 20 and 21 this year for for blind, hearing and community service so all the money goes back into the community. Members will be standing outside of Walmart and Tops and will be accepting donations to support the organizations sight programs and give good-hearted individuals a White Cane label sticker as a token of appreciation.
One of the most widely-known fundraising projects of the club takes place every July at the Chautauqua County Fair, with the Lions' food stand full of a plethora of mouthwatering goodies. Hungry folks can order a variety of tried-and-true crowd-pleasers including hot dogs, fried bologna, beef on weck and the newest addition, which is their new signature burger, aptly called the "Lion Burger." Judy and her husband, Greg Cole, have been chairmen for the food stand at the Chautauqua County Fair for six years.
The first Saturday in December is Breakfast with Santa, held at the Moose Club. Each year, Santa Claus makes a trip to Dunkirk to have breakfast with area children followed by a magic show.
"It's open to the community and their is a puppet guy and a magician which is free for the community," Judy said. "It's been going on for at least 34 years."
The newest event added to the long list of activities of the club is the Veteran's trip to Washington, D.C., which was a big hit last year, thanks to Peter Clark.
"If we can fill a bus, we are going to do it," Banach said. "We originally started last year with the intent of taking WWII veterans. There aren't too many left. Locally, if we had half a dozen, that was it. We went down the Korean War, the Vietnam War, The Gulf War. We took anybody. We filled up a bus. It was a one-day trip. We left late Friday night and came home early Sunday morning."
The club paid for all the expenses of the trip. The bus and the meals were taken care of, according to Banach. A date will be set after Clark gets a sufficient number of veterans that are interested. Those war veterans who served in overseas theaters of operation are eligible. If interested, veterans should call 672-5462 or P.O. Box 44, Dunkirk, NY.
COMMUNITY SERVANTS NEEDED
The club currently has about 50 members, which are all volunteers.
"It's a good way to learn who's in the community," Carlson said. He came to Dunkirk in 1976 and joined the Lions Club in 1977.
"It's a good feeling helping out neighbors. It keeps you involved in the community and it's a good way to stay active."
The current president is George Watson, Sally Olow is the secretary and Phil Kumler is the treasurer. Judy, vice president, steps in for Watson when he isn't present. A member since 2009, she was the first female Lion of the Year for the Dunkirk-Fredonia Lions Club.
The Lions are currently seeking new members who will be committed and dedicated to the club's mission.
"We are trying to attract younger people," Judy said. "The problem is younger people if you've got families that's a time commitment. It comes up at every meeting that we need to invite people. We are always looking for new members, but I think that's across the board for all organizations. People are busy and working. People mean well and want to help, but wanting to help and taking the steps to make the time are two different things."
Membership is open to men and women who want to serve the community. People interested in joining the organization, learning more about the Lions Club activities or wishing to avail themselves of services offered by the Lions Club are invited to speak with any Lions Club member or call 672-8509.
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