Volunteers offer free eye care to seniors in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

Fifty seniors were treated through The Eyeglasses Project on Sunday.

50 seniors were treated through The Eyeglasses Project on Sunday

Susanna Sum, right, has her eyes examined by Dr. David Neima at the clinic. Eye specialists often used the help of a translator as they worked through 50 patients on the Downtown Eastside on Sunday. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

A gaggle of seniors waits patiently inside the doors of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, where the sound of Mandarin and Cantonese voices fills the air.

They take turns sitting down at one of three tables, piled with optometric tools and gear. One at a time, eye specialists peer into their pupils and ask them to look through lens after lens, until they find just the right fit, often with the help of a translator.

Bao Qin Song is one of 50 pre-selected seniors who were offered free basic eye care and prescription glasses, as part of the Eyeglasses Project, on Sunday.

Bao Qin Song reads the letters on an eye chart while being examined on Sunday. She says it's been five years since she had her prescription checked. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Qin Song says it's been five years since she had her prescription checked. She can only read for five minutes before she loses focus with her current glasses.

"I use the glasses but the glasses are no good,'' Qin Song said.

She said she didn't know how to get a new prescription, so she was happy when a volunteer told her on Saturday that there would be free eye exams for Chinese, low-income seniors who live in the neighbourhood.

"Today, the doctor checked my eyes. He changed the glasses. Oh! Good, good, good! Use that. I thought, this doctor is very good.''

Eyeglasses were laid out at the clinic on Sunday. The project is a collaboration between Douglas College, the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House and the Richmond Chinatown Lions Club. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Project founder Howard Ma, a chartered financial analyst, says the idea came to him when he had to buy new glasses himself last year.

"I remembered my last pair cost about $800 and I thought, wow, I don't want to do that again. And then I started thinking, what do the poor and low-income do about their eyes,'' Ma said.

"I've worn glasses since I was five years old and I know I can't function without glasses.''

In October, the Canadian Association of Optometrists warned of a looming "vision crisis'' in a submission to a House of Commons standing committee due to Canada's aging population.

Seniors 65 and older are projected to make up 20 per cent of the Canadian population by 2024, according to Statistics Canada.

Sneior citizens wait to have their eyes examined at the clinic. In October, the Canadian Association of Optometrists warned of a looming "vision crisis'' due to Canada's aging population. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

With that will come an increase in age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts, the association said.

"Maintaining eye health, preventing avoidable vision loss, and managing age-related eye disease is a public health imperative and key to improving the overall quality of life and well-being of seniors,'' it said.

The Eyeglasses Project is a collaboration between Douglas College, the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House and the Richmond Chinatown Lions Club.

Ma says he hopes the project raises awareness about the demand for basic needs and services in the community and inspires others to get involved.

Yue Xin Ye, another one of the clinic's patients, waiting in line on Sunday. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

If the project proves successful he hopes to continue it with more volunteers.