Spokane Valley Lions Club seeks new members
March 9, 2023 Updated Thu., March 9, 2023 at 2:05 p.m.
In February, the Spokane Valley Lions Club’s celebrated its 76th anniversary and members wish they’d had a larger group to mark that milestone.
Club president Gary Matthews joined the service organization 40 years ago after being invited by a neighbor.
“My wife and I were newly married, and we were raised that you get involved in your community,” he recalled.
At first, he felt a bit intimidated.
“It was a coat-and-tie meeting and I was working in construction at the time.”
But the club offered several ways to serve the Spokane Valley community, and Matthews relished the opportunities.
Currently, some of those opportunities are hampered by declining membership.
“What’s happening with Spokane Valley Lions is what’s happening with other organizations like Rotary, Kiwanis, etc.,” he said. “Shrinking membership.”
Longtime member Clayton Whitaker agreed.
“The last few years have been especially hard,” he said. “I was looking at a roster from May of 2020. Five of the members on that list have passed away.”
He said Lions Club International was founded in 1917, by Chicago businessman Melvin Jones.
“Jones believed that with success comes responsibility,” Whitaker said.
In 1925 Helen Keller spoke at an international convention and famously challenged Lions to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”
That’s how helping the visually impaired became a priority for the organization.
“We’ve helped Spokane Valley public schools fund glasses and eye exams for thousands of kids over the years,” Whitaker said.
Matthews is proud of that record of service.
“We’ve never turned away a child needing glasses,” he said. “But over the years as state programs have changed, the demand has decreased. We used to field half a dozen requests a month, now we get one or two and that’s mainly for repairs or replacement.”
Their quest to help others included a global component. With some grants from the international association, the Spokane Valley Lions were able to fund medical equipment for a vision clinic in Bangladesh.
A portions of the funds they donated came from a Spokane Valley source.
“There used to be a wishing well in the University City mall,” Matthews said. “When they took out the wishing well, they gave us all the change in it.”
It added up to thousands of dollars and went a long way to enable the club’s various projects.
Another source of funding has vanished.
“We had 12 newspaper recycling boxes throughout the Valley,” Matthews said. “Mandatory recycling really affected that. Four years ago, we got rid of our last newspaper collection box.”
The Valley Lions were also active in assisting those who needed hearing aids.
“We used to pay to have hearing aids reconditioned and refitted,” Matthews said. “Then digital hearing aids came out and were too expensive for us to provide new ones. The Central Lions (downtown) took over all our hearing aid requests.”
Now, the group’s primary focus is diabetes. That’s what drew Perrin Zanck to the club 30 years ago.
“Our son was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age 6,” he said. “The Lions Club does a lot of work with diabetes. For a long time, we had an association with the American Juvenile Diabetes Foundation in Spokane.”
In addition to assisting those with vision, hearing and diabetes issues, the Spokane Valley Lions Club has delivered Christmas gifts to those in need, built wheelchair ramps, and beautified parks and playgrounds. The club members want to continue to build on its 76 years of service, but they need new members to join them.
“Our average age is 70,” Matthews said. “It isn’t in the cards for us to build a playground or put up a swing set, anymore, but we’d like to continue to help with special projects.”
Members said making a difference in the lives of others is rewarding.
“If it’s in your heart to give back to the community this is a great option,” Zanck said.
“You can’t put a dollar value on the feeling of giving back,” he said. “Our motto is ‘We Serve.’ ”
The Spokane Valley Lions Club meets the fourth Monday of every month at 6 p.m. at Darcy’s Restaurant10502 East Sprague, Spokane Valley. For more information contact club president Gary Matthews at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cindy Hval can be reached at email@example.com.
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