RON HARTMAN/CHRONICLE PHOTODr. Cat Merritt, with the support of Creswell First!, is helping fill the gap in eye care in the community.

CRESWELL – What’s the secret to making sure that a community foundation runs like a charm?

When the people involved are all happy to go above and beyond, it’s amazing how smoothly an operation can run. 

For 71 years the Lions Club was a charitable link for needy folks in the Creswell community.

Then the pandemic hit.

Already shrinking in numbers, the Lions Club folded. Creswell First! took over and now sponsors programs such as the Vision Project with Dr. Cat Merritt at Eyeland Family Optical. 

“People donate to support programs in the community – in this case to give money to Cat,” Creswell First! Board President Steve Carmichael said. “She’s wonderful. She doesn’t charge us very much. I think it’s the bare minimum that it costs her.” 

Anyone interested in getting new glasses can pick up an application at the Creswell Library. Once they’re turned in, they’ll be screened, then those who qualify can come into the shop on Oregon Avenue to choose from a wide array of colors and styles of eyeglasses. 

“We’re like a family here,” said Dr. Merritt, who is an optometrist. She’s not kidding when she says it’s like family there. Her business partner, Dr. Cassie Wittenborn, an optician, is just carrying on a tradition, as her mother used to work there.

“If you make an appointment, when you walk through the door, we already know you,” said Dr. Merritt, who has four children, ranging from 14 to 21 years old. “We take care of you like you’re a family member. It sounds corny, but we really do that. It’s really nice here, and we care. If you come in with a problem, we help you solve it.”

“If you have a computer that’s 40 inches away, and nobody else will ever fit you for that, I have a tape measure and we’ll build a mock-up frame and set it for 40 inches away. We do things like that to solve any issues you have. 

“We have one guy, a motorcycle guy, he couldn’t get sunglasses to fit under his helmet. Well, bring it in. Somebody else wanted help with sighting for his rifle. 

“Practical, useful, good stuff. We try to make it work.” 

Dr. Merritt said she’s more than happy to contribute to the community. After all, her work is rewarding – especially when she gets positive reports back from her patients. 

“I remember some weird things people tell me,” she said. “They say their glasses were so strong they could see the legs on ants – ‘Make it stop!’

“About once or twice or three times a year, parents call to say their kids are looking at grains of sand on the ground, saying, ‘Why didn’t somebody tell me?’”

Merritt says she’s thankful that she is able to treat many children for myopia control, a degenerative nearsighted condition.

“A lot of little kids can’t see the board at school, and there’s a connection between the diseases in the eye,” she said. “With specialized lenses you can slow the myopia.”

Nationwide, the Lions Club provides a long list of charitable services, but the club’s global causes have mainly focused on diabetes, vision care, hunger, the environment and childhood cancer. The Creswell Lions Club had always made vision care the focal point of its foundation work. 

While the local Lions Club disbanded, there is hope that they’ll get back together. But it’s easier now knowing the torch is in the hands of folks with the hearts of lions.

“This is a terrific service for the community,” Carmichael said. “Go to our website to see other programs we support.” 

If you think you qualify, stop by the library and fill out an application. Eyeland Optical is ready to address your eye-care needs.

After all, you are like family there.