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Grass roots effort in Tri-Counties helping to get prescription glasses to kids in need in Cuba

Gregg Feldman with the Santa Barbara Eyeglass Factory and filmmaker Andres Fernandez have teamed up to help some kids in Cuba who can't afford prescription glasses. The company has a long history of giving free glasses to kids in need in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.

Ventura County man, Santa Barbara-based eyeglass company team up for effort.

It’s a busy afternoon at the Santa Barbara Eyeglass Factory’s Ventura store.

Eyeglass Factory employee Daniel Govea puts of pile of glasses in cases on the store’s front counter, for pickup. These are very special glasses.

"What we have here...we have a bunch of glass for children in Cuba," said Govayah. "Kids that cannot afford glasses...they send the prescriptions over here...and the Santa Barbara Eyeglass Factory gets to fill them in for them at no charge."

It’s the latest shipment of eyeglasses headed to kids in need in Cuba through a unique, grass roots effort. Andres Fernandez of Ventura is Cuban-American. He’s been traveling to Cuba every few weeks this year, shooting a documentary about his family’s homeland.

During one of the trips, he was approached by a family asking for help. Their five year old son, Kevin, could barely see, and prescription glasses are hard to come by in Cuba.

"This was the first child we got the glasses for," said Fernandez. "The problem came up because they realized he couldn't go to school, because he couldn't see."

Fernandez got the glasses for Kevin, and for about 50 more kids, after approaching the Santa Barbara Eyeglass Company for help. The nearly three decade old company has been giving away free glasses to kids in need on the South Coast for years.

"We started the program as once a year...we wanted to do something to help the community," said Greg Feldman, who runs the family-owned company. They would give eye exams, and make glasses for about 100 kids in a one day event. It evolved into them doing it more frequently.

Now, they have signs in their stores offering free glasses to kids in need, and provide them to hundreds of kids a year.

He says when Fernandez approached him about helping some kids in Cuba, they were glad to help. But, he admits they faced some logistical problems.

The Eyeglass Factory and Fernandez have teamed up to get custom-made glasses for about 50 Cuban kids. The documentary maker is getting ready to take his next shipment of glasses to Cuba this weekend.

Fernandez says getting glasses to kids is an offshoot of his bigger mission, which is to make a documentary which he hopes will improve relations between the U.S. and Cuba. He’s grateful that Feldman, and the Eyeglass Factory stepped up to help with the free glasses.

Feldman says they make about 400 free pairs of children’s eyeglasses a year to those in need through their stores in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Goleta. He’s doing about 100 pairs for kids in Cuba. Why do they do it?

"It's helping people...families and kids...that really, really need the help," said Feldman. "The best answer is we do it because we can."

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.