Face mask production at VisionCorps. (Source: VisionCorps)
Face mask production at VisionCorps. (Source: VisionCorps)

When the pandemic arrived in March of last year, many businesses saw challenges and shutdowns. VisionCorps, on the other hand, saw a chance to help the local community in a big way: by making masks.

The nonprofit offers multiple services to the community, from programming to help “empower individuals with vision loss to attain independence” such as book clubs and vision loss support groups, to medical referrals and resources.

The organization also has a team of workers that do product manufacturing, such as creating cushions to go inside military helmets or packaging bulk food items for shipping and distribution.

VisionCorp steps up during Covid-19

Katie Phillips (Source: Provided)

Once the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic began taking a toll on the sanitation and protective gear, the government of Lancaster County contracted VisionCorps to create 50,000 masks to be used by county employees, essential workers and people within the prison system, according to Katie Phillips, the marketing manager of VisionCorps’ business and industry group.

The warehouse was reformatted to maintain health guidelines, with tables spaces 6 feet apart and plastic cubicles set up for each person.

Because the manufacturing team is deemed essential for their work creating military items, VisionCorps was able to keep all staff employed.

In fact, because of the increased production volume, Phillips said that three new people were hired to work on the production lines and several employees were able to get promotions.

The majority of the production employees are blind or visually impaired, said Phillips.

From an agency perspective, VisionCorps also increased services for the over 2,000 clients that it serves.

Carol Gifford (Source: Provided)

As of January, VisionCorps has been offering 20 educational and support groups for those experiencing vision loss, according to Carol Gifford, the community relations specialist for VisionCorps. Before the pandemic, there were only 15 such groups.

Groups include basic support, orientation and mobility training, children’s programs and more. In 2021, VisionCorps added a support group for those with guide dogs and a book club in which the coordinator reads a chapter over Zoom for the group to discuss together.

Miranda Golden, a VisionCorps staff member, leads the book club online group. (Source: Provided)

While there are still some services offered in person, the majority of the programs have either been completely virtual or hybrid during the pandemic, said Gifford.

Even after the effects of the pandemic subside, the programs may continue in a hybrid style because of the accessibility and reach that being partially online has created, she said.

Because of the program and staff expansions in 2020, VisionCorps received an award from the National Industries for the Blind, Gifford said.

Expanding VisionCorp’s reach

VisionCorps has its home base on Queen Street in Lancaster city, the nonprofit serves clients of all ages in Lancaster, Lebanon, Chester, York and Adams counties.

Nearly all of VisionCorps’ services are free, said Gifford. For the services that do cost money, such as referrals to vision specialists, VisionCorps offers a voucher program to qualified low income applicants.

“The goal is to help people with vision loss live independently,” said Gifford.

Gifford offers virtual presentations about VisionCorps and its programs for interested church groups, businesses and other groups who are interested in learning more.

Olivia Smucker