01 Nov Pope launches new program to provide free eye care to children

Kristina Webb
Palm Beach Daily News

Longtime Manalapan resident and philanthropist Lois Pope is turning her sights to the vision of Palm Beach County’s children.

Pope announced this past weekend that she is launching Lois’ Vision4Kids to provide free eye screenings and prescription glasses to children from schools and organizations in Palm Beach County.

The initiative is a partnership with Bascom Palmer Eye Institute and the Palm Beach County Food Bank. It officially begins Oct. 28 with an event at the food bank’s facility in Lake Worth Beach.

In a news release, Pope said she was inspired to fund the program after learning that more than 25% of children ages 2 to 17 need corrective eyewear. Those numbers are higher in children of color: 40% of Hispanic children, 34% of Asian children and more than 20% of Black children are nearsighted or have astigmatism, according to the release. “My mother suffered terribly for years from macular degeneration,” Pope said in the news release.

“I saw firsthand how vision impairment affected her physical and emotional well-being. Can you imagine what it does to a child? They may feel isolated, they may be bullied, they may feel stupid because they can’t see and read.

“No child should ever feel stupid or be subjected to negative behaviors because they need glasses,” she said. “No child should ever have any barrier to learning.” Pope’s mother was a teacher in Philadelphia, and Pope recalled that she once told her daughter: “If children can’t see, they can’t learn.”

The new partnership will work with Bascom Palmer’s ophthalmologists, optometrists and other vision professionals to provide the eye screenings. Each child who qualifies for prescription glasses will receive two free pairs, and every child who completes a vision screening will get a free pair of sports goggles. Vision problems are more likely to go undetected in children who are underprivileged, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Pope, the widow of National Enquirer founder Generoso Pope, is known for contributing to causes including veterans and animal welfare. She for years has donated to both Bascom Palmer, in Palm Beach Gardens, and the food bank.

The new program’s name, Lois’ Vision4Kids, mirrors the name of a food bank program, Lois’ Food4Kids, renamed in Pope’s honor after she donated $1 million to the food bank in April 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure families and children in need continued to have access to healthy food. More recently, Pope donated $250,000 to the Palm Beach County Food Bank to cover the cost of a 53-foot refrigerated tractor-trailer. Food bank director Jamie Kendall said the organization is pleased to work with Pope and Bascom Palmer on the new initiative.

“What a wonderful opportunity for those families needing this service for their children,” Kendall said. “Ms. Pope is truly a generous philanthropist who cares for the children in our community.”

In 2018, Pope donated $12 million to Bascom Palmer to create the Lois Pope Center for Retinal & Macular Degeneration Research, in memory of her mother. Dr. Eduardo C. Alfonso, Bascom Palmer’s director and ophthalmology chair, said the institute is “incredibly grateful” to Pope for her support.

“Her generosity makes a huge difference for children and families living in underserved communities in our region,” Alfonso said.