Abby Hoover
Managing Editor

Volunteers with 20/20 Vision Foundation visited the Gathering Table on Saturday to provide free eye exams and glasses to those in need.
Dr. Hawks, who practices at Hawks, Besler, Rogers and Stoppel Optometrists, and his staff performed the vision tests and helped 30 patients pick out new glasses, which they will deliver next month.

“Thirty years ago, we saw that not all members of our community were receiving the eye care that they needed,” Hawks said. “That’s why we created the 20/20 Vision Foundation in order to provide and promote eye health for those who may not have access to affordable care.”

Through the foundation, they offer pro bono in-office exams, mobile unit exams, and free eye glasses for those who need them.

This is the doctor’s fourth visit to the Gathering Table, a mission run by Pastor Ann Rundquist at 5001 Independence Ave.

Bruce, a professionally trained photojournalist who has lived in Northeast his whole life, now needs glasses. Last year, he got a pair for the first time, but they’ve since broken. For the past six or seven years, he has volunteered at the Gathering Table often.

He grew up going to a Christian church in the neighborhood, but returning to church nearly 30 years later, he found Gathering Table is not the typical congregation.

“I’m not even very religious anymore as I get older, but that’s not why I come,” Bruce said, adding that he helped the church perform the most important service, feeding people during COVID. “A high percentage of homeless people, for some reason, drift in the Northeast, and then I call it being shipwrecked because a lot of them aren’t from here, so what we do is vital.”

Dr. Hawks started the foundation 30 years ago, going to places that he already knew of to do eye exams and check the health of their vision. Eventually, he began encouraging his employees to join him so they could make a larger impact.

They first visited the Gathering Table in 2017, but took a break during COVID. This time around, they’re joined by many new employees who have never experienced it.

“Everybody just wants to donate their time and help, we have frame companies that will donate discontinued product so we have frames that they can choose from, the Essilor Vision Foundation Changing Life Through Lenses will donate the lenses and the lab makes the lenses, it’s just a really neat organization,” volunteer Beth Wuellner said. “They will come back in four weeks from today and deliver their new glasses to them, and it’s just a real joy to see the faces of some of them. We’ve seen them every time we’ve been here, like they’re regulars to us, like normal patients that we see at the office, they’re here. We just get to come to them for it.”

Vision is essential to daily life, and Hawk’s practice’s motto is, “See better, live better.”

“It’s very hard to function without proper vision, so we can help them,” Wuellner said. “We even have some patients that, when [Hawks] sees them, he realizes they have cataracts really bad. So then we reach out to our ophthalmologist about the cataract surgery and they will donate the surgery if needed. A lot of them can sometimes go to Truman Medical Center, and they can get surgery for free that way. But if we can’t get them that way, then we will try to find another ophthalmologist that will donate their time to do that surgery for this patient.”

The exams are efficient, taking about 20 minutes, and hosting them on a Saturday morning draws a large crowd.

“I think the transportation is a difficult thing for a lot of people to get, that transportation to get to and from doctors,” Wuellner said. “So knowing that we can come here, they just know they just have to walk here to us or they can get a ride to this location. So it just works out better.”

Rundquist said the Gathering Table tries to fill gaps that can’t be met in other places.

“Like with our washer and dryer, showers, lots of food, but most of all fellowships,” Rundquist said. “When I first started, that’s one thing I noticed, they would sit by themselves at a meal. So we changed to round tables, and all of a sudden now they’re all friends. We have developed friendships among this group, who have been a good support system. They might be here for four hours on Saturday and Sunday.”

After the exams, monthly volunteers from First Lutheran Church served a big spaghetti dinner in the church’s basement.