When Bryce Polascik, Trinity ‘20, was an undergraduate at Duke, he set up an eyeglasses donation box in the Campus Center Pharmacy through Respectacle. Respectacle, a non-profit aiming to increase eyeglass accessibility, collects unused or old glasses then refurbishes and uploads them to an online catalog where anyone can order a pair that matches their prescription for just a few dollars in shipping costs.
Now an M.D. candidate at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Polascik is the founder and current president of the school’s Respectacle chapter. He hopes that a current Duke student will follow in his footsteps and re-establish Respectacle at his alma mater.
While at Duke, Polascik had a “general interest in medicine” and was involved in ophthalmology research. He found Respectacle online while looking for an organization that he could contribute to.
Polascik said that at the start, he was coordinating the Respectacle donations on his own.
“I contacted the [campus center] pharmacy and asked them if I could put a donation box in there,” he said. “And then from there, I just did my best to share the resource with people to raise awareness that if you have glasses lying around, you can donate them to this cause.”
However, while Respectacle was never recognized as an “official student group” at Duke, Wake Forest was receptive to its growth.
“It wasn't until I got to Wake Forest for medical school when I realized that my involvement with the group could actually be taken further and I could turn it into something bigger, like a student group,” Polascik said.
The Respectacle chapter at Wake Forest launched in August 2022 and has been a major success, having collected around 2,250 pairs of eyeglasses and generated “a large amount of student interest,” Polascik said.
The chapter holds monthly events where volunteers collect glasses from their six donation boxes around Winston-Salem, clean and process them, then send the refurbished glasses to Respectacle’s headquarters in Wisconsin. According to Polascik, each event lasts for about 2 hours and averages an output of 350 pairs of eyeglasses.
Polascik said that part of the reason that the donation system works so well is that most people as they age develop eye problems that affect the shape of their eye and require them to repeatedly change their glasses prescription.
“And so a lot of people end up with a bunch of pairs of glasses that they personally can't really use anymore,” Polascik explained. “This organization provides an outlet for something you can do with those old pairs that you just have lying around and put them towards a greater cause.”
Thus Polascik describes the organization as “self-sustaining” and one that “produces a high amount of yield for the amount of time students are putting in.”
Although it may be considered self-sustaining when up-and-running, Polascik said the hardest part is raising awareness to these donation boxes since the chapter is new to the area.
Eye clinics, pharmacies, churches and high-traffic stores seem to be the best locations for the boxes according to Polascik, and he has found continued success by maintaining a personal contact at each location. He is then able to encourage store owners to mention the box to people coming into their establishment and to get feedback on the status of the box, allowing him to strategize accordingly.
In addition to simply being an aid to the non-profit, Polascik said that his work has been uniquely self-fulfilling because Respectacle is an organization where one can confidently see that every hour of work they are putting in is having an impact.
“Every pair of glasses is attached to a QR code … and once every pair of glasses gets shipped out, it ends up placing a pin on a map, so you can actually see what ends up happening to all the glasses that you process,” he said.
Respectacle is not currently affiliated with Duke, and there is no donation box in the Campus Center Pharmacy or in Durham — something that Polascik hopes will change.
“I really encourage Duke students to get involved in this project, especially at the Duke location,” he said. “There's a lot of potential to help out people in the area who may be struggling to access prescription eyeglasses as they're very expensive traditionally.”
Polascik said that if any students are interested in becoming involved with the organization to reach out to him by email.
“I can help the students start up a chapter at the undergraduate campus and help share with them the resources we've used to get started and help them get going as well,” he said.
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Madeleine Berger is a Trinity junior and an editor at large of The Chronicle's 118th volume.