Not being able to see well enough to read was heartbreaking for Tamaqua resident Blanche Marchalk.

The older woman loved being swept away to foreign lands, getting caught up in a thriller and, most of all, reading true tales about man's best friend. As time passed, it became harder and harder to see the printed word as her macular degeneration advanced. Even large print books didn't help. Her vision deteriorated to the point where she couldn't even fully enjoy the annual Westminster Dog Show earlier this year. All she could do was listen. The dogs and their handlers were just a blur.

Blanche's landlord, Beth Durham, mentioned the woman's plight to one of her assistants, wondering if there was any way to help. Fortunately for Blanche, that assistant happens to be a member of the Tamaqua Lions Club, an organization dedicated to sight problems and solutions.

The assistant, Paula Hoffman, spoke with Marchalk, then went back to her service organization to see if there was any way they could help. The local club took up the challenge and acquired a low vision magnifier machine, which they presented to Marchalk this week, on loan for as long as she wants. The retail cost of the machine is somewhat prohibitive, in the $2,000 to $3,000 range, making it difficult for the general public to afford. Lions Club President Steve Bayer was able to find a great deal on the internet and Lion Bill Fegley agreed to personally donate half the cost.

Lions Club International took up the challenge to provide help for the visually impaired in 1925, after the renowned Helen Keller challenged Lions "to become knights of the blind." The organization, on every level, focuses on the causes of preventable blindness, and ways to help people overcome such obstacles. Local Lions collect unused eyeglasses, which are then cleaned, sorted and distributed to those in need, mostly in developing countries. The organization established its SightFirst program in 1989, providing free or low cost vision screenings; supporting guide dog schools; providing scholarships and devices, such as canes; supporting vocational technical training programs, recreational activities and Lions camps for the blind/visually impaired; furnishing audio, large print and Braille books to public libraries; and funding eye research. Causes of preventable blindness include cataracts, glaucoma, age related macular degeneration, diabetic eye disease, corneal blindness, river blindness and trachoma.

Thanks to the generosity of virtual strangers, Marchalk will be able to actually see the directions on her prescription medication and take armchair trips to anywhere in the world.