By Cheryl Conway
After seeing with her own eyes the poverty faced by other people in distant lands, a 16-year old Hackettstown girl is finding ways to collect needed items as a way to help others.
Last year, Molly Szpakowski collected 9,000 used pill containers and shipped them to Malawi in Africa. Now the junior at Morris Catholic High School in Denville is collecting various types of glasses and sunglasses and is calling out to the community for donations.
Szpakowski plans to send the glasses to medical missions and charitable organizations that distribute to the poor in various third-world nations including Bolivia, China, Ghana, Honduras, Jamaica, Philippines, Panama, Thailand and Kenya.
“By getting involved I can ensure that your glasses will be given to someone who needs it most,” says Szpakowski. “Your simple act of charity and kindness will impact many lives for years to come, so please look around your house and I bet you can find a pair or two of unwanted and long forgotten glasses that are of no use to you, but can make wonders for others!”
Before eighth grade, Szpakowski got involved with People to People, organized to enhance international understanding and friendship through educational, cultural, and humanitarian activities among peoples of different countries. She had received a letter from the organization suggesting that she get involved.
She has traveled three summers with People to People, joining other students and teachers visiting Canada, Europe, Australia then China.
“I got to live with a family in Germany, got to try their foods,” she says. She also helped clean up beaches in Normandy. “It brought me out of my shell; got to see all these people to see how they live. I knew I wanted to help people crowded in cities and living in shacks.”
Last year, when she returned from China, “I saw the poverty. When I got back I researched projects,” and learned about the need for pill containers.
“They send medical missions there so they needed the pill containers,” she explains. “It’s such an everyday object we throw away. In these impoverished countries, they use paper which is so dangerous for children.”
That’s when Szpakowski went on her mission to collect empty pill containers from Thanksgiving through January 2016, collecting 9,000 containers.
She decided on the eyeglasses collection for this year. She began collecting in November 2016 and will continue through the end of February.
“In researching this project, I was surprised to find that despite the fact that so many various organizations have taken part in it, still nearly four million pairs of eyeglasses are discarded each year in the United States alone,” she says. “Unfortunately, just like my family, in the world today nearly 153 million people experience poor vision.”
With that in mind, “I started thinking about the unwanted glasses lying around my house and I decided to go on a mission to find how many I could collect,” she says. “At the end of the day I found eight pairs! So if I could do that in a day, imagine what our community can do together and how many people we can help!
“I am collecting used and unwanted, prescription or nonprescription eyeglasses, sports glasses, children’s glasses, empty frames and eyeglass cases. Additionally, as there is an enormous need for sunglasses in countries near the equator, where UV rays can cause severe damage to the eyes, I am also accepting sunglasses of any kind.
Szpakowski realized a headquarters right in Short Hills for New Eyes for the Needy and plans to donate all the glasses to that organization which will then send them to countries through medical missions.
She has set up collection sites at St. James’ Episcopal Church, Hackettstown; Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Great Meadows; Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Hackettstown; St. Jude Thaddeus Church, Budd Lake; St. Hedwig’s Church, Elizabeth; Trinity United Methodist Church, Hackettstown; The House of the Good Shepherd retirement community, Hackettstown; Colonial Manor Retirement and Assisted Living Residence at Panther Valley, Allamuchy; Warren County Library, northeast branch, Independence Township; Hackettstown Regional Medical Center.
“So many people suffer from vision,” she says. “This is something all people can pitch into. So many people are in need for these glasses.”
Her goal is to collect 2,000 new and used, prescription and non-prescription for adults and children. She had already received 1,500 in early January.
Giving back and helping others is a trait Szpakowski learned early on from her parents.
“From such a young age we were always involved in our church,” says Szpakowski, member at Saints Peter and Paul Church in Great Meadows. “Every Thanksgiving we would bake cupcakes then bring them to the homeless shelter.”
Szpakowski currently volunteers at Hackettstown Hospital running specimens to the lab, taking phone calls and helping with discharge; as well at Heath Village Retirement Community, where she talks to patients, plays games with them such as Bingo. “It’s nice, they can have someone to talk to,” she says.
“I love giving back to others more than receiving,” she concludes. “I love the look on their face; it’s such a nice feeling when you help someone in a nice way.”
For more information on donating eyeglasses, or to arrange a pickup, contact Szpakowski at 908-914-1248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.