Photo by Anthony Caciopo
Helga Fuller pulls the contents from a purse she successfully bid on during a fundraising auction to benefit the Himalayan Cataract Project. Admiring with Fuller the first of many surprise items in the purse are fellow Palos Park Woman’s Club members Judith Mokelke (far left); Lucy Krouse (far right) and Saulena Antanaviciene (in stripes).
Members of the Palos Park Woman’s Club met last week to bring eyesight to the blind, helping impoverished people halfway across the globe have at least one less cloudy aspect of life.
The women met to hold their annual purse auction, a lively event which this year raised money for the Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP), an organization that provides low-cost cataract surgery “overcoming the mountain of global blindness,” according to HCP’s website.
And when the auction was over, enough money was raised to fund surgery on 55 eyes by HCP, at a startling cost of only $25 apiece.
“I’ve got $20 dollars here; can I get $25?” said auctioneer and club member Loretta Gaidas as she held a purse aloft and worked the room of about 35 attendees. “Just $25 means another cataract surgery.”
Hands went up, purses were awarded and money was collected later in the program, soon to be on its way to HCP.
“Try to wrap your brain around what your vision is worth,” said Susan Berman who attended the meeting to give a presentation about HCP. “So many people in the Third World are struggling with rural conditions where they’ve never even seen a vehicle with wheels, such as in Nepal where I was with HCP.”
The people, explained Berman, have to get around by foot, over bridges, up narrow stone paths with drop-offs, sometimes blocked by mudslides.
“If you’re blind in Nepal, you go nowhere,” she said. “You’re homebound. And it’s not only the person who is homebound, but it also takes someone out of the workforce or out of school to care for that person.”
Cataracts are a clouding of the eye’s natural lens, which lies behind the iris and the pupil, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Symptoms include blurry vision, seeing double, being extra-sensitive to light and having trouble seeing at night, among others. Surgery is the only way to remove cataracts.
“Of the 39 million people worldwide who are blind, almost half are due to cataracts,” said Berman. “And in the Third World, it happens much sooner (in life).”
HCP was founded in 1995 by Sanduk Ruit, M.D. and Geoff Tabin, M.D. According to HCP’s website, the organization has trained more than 550 ophthalmic personnel and has performed more than 600,000 surgeries in the developing world, each taking approximately 10 minutes.
Mary Ann Parkins, the Palos Park Woman’s Club chairman of International Outreach, learned about HCP last year when it was featured on the CBS program “60 Minutes.”
“It touched me,” she said. “I thought what good work these men are doing and they’re teaching other ophthalmologists in these countries how to do these procedures.”
Parkins said she has a fascination with the eye. “Many of my family members and my dad had cataract surgery,” she said.
As she watched the show about HCP on television, Parkins said she wondered “How can they do this for such a little amount of money? It’s crazy when you think of what we pay in the States.”
The purse auction, a long tradition in the club, features new or gently used purses and handbags contributed by club members. The donors of the purses put cash and/or items of at least $10 in value inside the bags.
“A lot of the time the gals will put in anywhere from 20 bucks to 30 bucks and they might throw a little gift inside,” said Parkins. “They’re very generous.”
Donated items typically include gift certificates, jewelry, lotions…“Anything someone else would like,” she said. The purses that the winning bidders don’t want to keep are taken by club member Judy Veen to The Bridge Teen Center, 15555 S. 71st Ct. in Orland Park, which has a resale shop.
“It all sort of snowballs,” said Parkins. “We’re helping people in many different ways.”
Following her winning bid, Helga Fuller dug into the contents of her new bag.
“It was kind of unusual,” she said. “There were health food items, nice earrings and a bracelet.”
Fuller has been a member of the Palos Park Woman’s Club since 1987, the year after she and her husband moved to the village. She has taken part in the purse auction in past years and has also contributed purses, including one for this year’s effort.
“The purse (she won) is very cute,” said Fuller. “It’s a nice travel bag. The fun is seeing what people will put inside. Everyone is fairly generous.”
Parkins said the recipient of next year’s purse auction fundraiser will likely be HCP again.
“It’s just amazing what these doctors do,” she said.
More information about the Himalayan Cataract Project can be obtained at www.cureblindness.org. The Palos Park Woman’s Club can be found on Facebook by entering the club name in the search function.