Jim McFarland: Visionary with Mobile Vision Van

Susan EspirituFountain City, West Knoxville

“We Serve” is Jim McFarland’s favorite quote, and Knoxville, Tennessee, was the providential beneficiary of his move when he retired from Chevron’ s Texas plant.

That was in 1997 and in March 2000, Jim joined the West Knox Lions Club. At the club level, he has served or is currently serving as the newsletter editor, membership chair, treasurer, president at the district level, zone chair, region chair, vice governor 12N 2007-08, governor 12N 2008-09, cabinet treasurer, Awareness and Action chair and 12N KidSight region and area coordinator.

Other involvements include Lions Volunteer Blind Industries, Smoky Mountain Lions Charities, Remote Area Medical, Tennessee Lions Charities, East Tennessee Lions Eye bank and Mobile Vision Lab. He is the project manager for the Smoky Mountain Lions Charities Mobile Vision Lab.

Jim says, “My 10 years of volunteer work with Remote Area Medical is where I saw the need for eye care and the lack of available sources where the service could be obtained by individuals in need. “

At the 2011 Lions convention, a few visionary local members suggested they consider asking Remote Area Medical (RAM) to donate their retired “Eye Wagon” to the Lions Club.

Jim McFarland initially wondered what they would do with it, but says, “After considerable discussions a group of us decided that it had some potential, so we asked the board of directors to allow us to pursue this opportunity. RAM agreed to donate the ‘Eye Wagon’ to us and with a $39,000 grant from the East Tennessee Lions Eye Bank we took ownership.”

The old RAM Eye Wagon was moved to the campus of TN School for the Deaf in 2011, where volunteers spent hundreds of hours renovating the now renamed Mobile Vision Lab.

2013 was a banner year for the Mobile Vision Lab. The first test run in June with patients who already had a prescription was a complete failure, he says. “We were not able to make one pair of glasses, having to resort to using an outside lab to make the glasses.”

Then on the second test run in August, the lab experienced success, making eight pairs of glasses that day and ordering eight pairs of non-stock lens.

The third test run in September was again successful, making nine pairs of glasses and ordering four pairs of non-stock lens.

With the successful test runs completed, the Mobile Vision Lab went to its first mission at the Fountain City Lions Club House on October 23, 2013, where it served 40 clients, made 27 pairs of eyeglasses and ordered 19 pair of non-stock lens.

The lab became a full-service, one-stop location in 2014, offering eye exams where previously a client had to have a prescription issued by a doctor.

On Saturday Oct. 21, 2023, the Mobile Vision Lab completed its 140th mission serving at any given mission from three patients to 191.

Jim says, “I’m not sure that we ever thought that we would be around that long especially at the Lions function where the idea was born in the spring of 2011. We definitely, or least I, could not envision that we would serve 8,619 individuals and provide 8,577 pair of eyeglasses and perform 6,097 eye exams all free to the patient with the exception of a few small co-pays.”

Jim and his fellow visionaries have done this with an all-volunteer crew who spent in excess of 27,127 hours with a monetary value of services performed estimated to be $1,595,610.00. In addition to the Lions Volunteers, they have 49 local professionals (MD’s, OD’s Technicians Opticians), 173 general volunteers and 15 students/staff from the Kentucky School of Optometry. Jim says finding enough professional help is still the biggest challenge they face.

While the initial plan was to service only our local district, as the group got further into the operation, the vision expanded the thinking about to the west under the Smoky Mountain Lions Charities Mobile Lab Charter.

However, recent developments at Tennessee Lions Charities indicates that it may become a Tennessee Lions Charities project statewide.

I have no doubt with vision-minded people like Jim McFarland and his team behind it, the project will go statewide.

In recognition of his service to the Lions Club, Jim McFarland has received numerous awards and is the recipient of the association’s highest recognition, the Ambassador of Good Will award.

Jim has been married to his wife, Lion Shaaron, for 59 plus years. She screens several thousand children annually with him for MD12 KidSight program. The couple have two daughters and three grandchildren.

All of us have a story and I want to tell yours! Send them to susan@knoxtntoday.com


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