One member of the South Branch Lions Club is proving that simple acts of service can make a big difference. That member is Glenn Stafford, who was recently recognized for his commitment to give back to his community.
Stafford, an original founder and current first vice president of the South Branch chapter, was presented with the prestigious Edwin Dalstrom Distinguished Service Award, the Mid-South Lions Club's highest honor, on May 21 for his outstanding service. Although legally blind himself, Stafford has been donating homemade pecan brittle to the Mid-South Lions Club, who sells the brittle to raise funds for the visually and hearing impaired. As of June 17, Stafford has donated $2,250 worth of brittle to the organization.
Stafford suffers from macular degeneration, a condition generally caused by abnormal blood vessels that leak fluid into the macula. Those with macular degeneration lose their central vision but can still detect movement in their peripheral vision.
Stafford was diagnosed with the condition at eight years old and has never been able to drive. He said that two out of his three siblings also have the disease.
"For the first couple of years, they didn't really know what exactly I did have," Stafford said. "They knew they couldn't make me see 20/20, and by the time I was 10 is when they actually said 'You've got the youngest case we know of.'"
Stafford is a cook at his church and an avid woodworker, having made anything from small tables, bookshelves out of headboards, storage benches out of twin beds and even the podium that the club uses at its meetings. Woodworking is an activity that he has been doing ever since he was "old enough to pick up a hammer," and his first major project was building a Barbie couch for his younger sister when he was about eight or nine years old.
Having been involved in the Lions Club for about 20 years, he was a member of the Northeast Memphis Lions Club for about four and a half years, a member of the Olive Branch Lions Club for about eight or nine years and a member of the South Branch Lions Club since its inception. Stafford, the South Branch Lions Club's first president, will be moving back up to the position on July 1, and his commitment to service is evident. Current president Chris Bigham describes Stafford as a "really conscientious guy."
"I'll be the first one to say I'll be there," Stafford said. "Somebody's gotta step up and do it."
Stafford began making brittle long before he became involved with lions clubs but primarily made it for himself and his family. At one point, he also began giving some to the men who helped with the Royal Ambassadors group at his church.
"Two of the guys kept saying that was the best brittle they ever had, that I needed to sell it," Stafford said. "Me and my mom were doing craft shows, so I started taking some to different craft shows. I'd make $50, $75. Sometimes I'd pay my booth rent because most craft shows are $100. I figured that if I paid my booth rent with a high profit item, I was doing good."
Eventually, the lions club's annual fundraiser sparked an idea. Along with auctions, raffles and other small events, the club traditionally sells pecans in the fall around Christmastime all over the area at places like banks, hair salons and restaurants. Stafford began breaking up the extra pecans that didn't sell and decided to approach Brad Baker, the CEO of the Mid-South Lions, about selling brittle for them.
"I tried peanut brittle one time and it didn't do real well, so I said, 'Well, let me try pecan brittle,' and he said, 'Go ahead and try it,'" Stafford said. "He calls me and says, 'Can you bring me some more down here? They're really liking this.'"
Stafford buys his own ingredients, and the club orders extra pecan pieces for him. Bigham said that the club raises far more from selling Stafford's pecan brittle than from selling the bags of pecans.
"A bag of pecans will make two and a half batches," Stafford said. "So out of two bags, I can make five batches of pecans."
Stafford's brittle has become very popular and even has members of Missouri and Arkansas lions clubs clamoring for a batch. He's even been asked to ship some of his brittle to Colorado.
Services of the Mid-South Lions Club, located at the Hamilton Eye Institute in Memphis, include providing eyeglasses and hearing aids and arranging eye surgeries for those who cannot cover the costs. Clubs like South Branch raise money to help pay for these visual and auditory needs.
The Lions Club, the largest service organization in the world with chapters in countries as far away as China, began in 1917 when a man named Melvin Jones recognized the need for a service organization unaffiliated with a particular industry or company and would later go on to help millions of visually impaired individuals after Helen Keller met him and challenged him to be a "knight for the blind."
Unlike other organizations like the Red Cross or Goodwill whose executives make millions of dollars a year, the Lions Club is a nonprofit organization in which every member pays dues to be in the club and every penny raised goes to charity. The club has also traditionally sponsored optometry students who provide eye screenings and glasses to those in Central America or provided transportation and lodging to those who travel to the Hamilton Eye Institute for cataract surgery. The Lions Club was also one of the very first organizations on the scene to help with relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti.
The South Branch chapter, which started in 2012, primarily serves the Olive Branch and Southaven areas but does not limit their service to those places, as Stafford and the South Branch chapter recently partnered with the Byhalia and Holly Springs chapters to split the cost of two hearing aids for an individual in Holly Springs.
The South Branch Lions Club will be providing free eye screenings in Olive Branch on June 29 at a health fair at The Outpouring Church, located at 6888 Goodman Road #120.
Brent Walker is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.