The holidays will soon be here, and that means the Clifton Lions Club is gearing up for its annual fruit and Christmas trees sales.
Beginning Nov. 29, members will be outside University Mall in Fairfax selling trees, Monday-Friday, 4-9 p.m., and Saturday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. As of Dec. 6, same times, same place, they'll sell oranges and grapefruit.
"WE'LL DO IT as long as supplies last," said Lions Club President Jim Chesley. "And 100 percent of the proceeds goes to charity."
But Lions aren't just visible during the holidays. They help people and charities, all year 'round. And with 1.4 million members, said Chesley, Lions Club International is the world's largest service organization.
"In 1925, Helen Keller challenged them to become 'knights of the blind, in the crusade against darkness,'" he said. "Since then, the Lions' main thrust has been to help the sight-impaired."
Chesley was elected president of the local club in June, and attendees included Ken Isaac and Warren Woolsey, two former past district governors of District 24 A, to which Clifton's club belongs. Darrell O'Busek was installed as club secretary, and Ed Wandelt, treasurer.
District 24 A is composed of 11 counties in Northern Virginia and all the independent cities. The Clifton Lions Club meets the second and fourth Thursdays, at 7 p.m., at the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum on Fairfax Station Road. For information, call membership chairman Gary Reed at 703-815-1042, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Lions motto is "We Serve," and members take it seriously. In Virginia, they operate all over the state, serving various humanitarian efforts.
"The majority of the world's eye banks have been established by and are currently supported by Lions Clubs," said Chesley. "In the past year, District 24 A clubs have contributed more than $1 million to charitable causes." They also operate a youth camp in the Shenandoah Mountains.
FUNDS RAISED by the Clifton Lions go to the Old Dominion Eye Bank in Richmond, Leader Dogs for the Blind (in Michigan, where they're raised), the Lions Hearing Foundation and Research Center in Charlottesville, and to support two mobile sight-and-hearing screening vans.
The local club was founded in January 1969 and, said Chesley, it also gives citizenship awards to students at Clifton Elementary, sponsors Little League and SYA youth sports teams and supplies Clifton Elementary's safety patrols with rain gear. The Clifton Lions have also financed major ear and eye operations for Clifton-area youth and, each Thanksgiving and Christmas, they provide food and clothing to local needy residents.
But that's not all. The Clifton Lions Club contributes to Boy Scouts and chartered two Cub Scout packs — one in Centreville and one in Clifton. Since 1976, it's worked at the Northern Virginia Lions Youth Camp in the Shenandoahs and, in 1994, club members built a cabin there for the boys.
Since 1978, it's sponsored the Clifton/Fairfax Lioness Club; and since 1979, it's sponsored a Leo club for students at Robinson Secondary School (it currently has 35 members).
After becoming club president, Chesley noted that, "Over the past year, the Clifton Lions Club has raised and donated more than $15,000 to local charities." During that same period, he said, the club contributed $100,000 in volunteer man-hours.
Indeed, the club holds fund-raisers throughout the year that enable it to make so many charitable donations. The annual Pancake Breakfast is in late February, followed in April by the Vintage Motorcycle Show. Also in April is the youth weekend at camp. Lions go with and cook for the local Scout troops who work toward their merit badges there.
In May is White Cane Day, during which Lions stand in front of grocery stores and ask for donations for the blind and hearing-impaired. In June, the county Parks and Recreation Department pays the Lions to park visitors' cars during the Sully Antique Car Show.
SEPTEMBER BRINGS the Clifton Car Show on Labor Day, which partially benefits the Lions, plus the Sully Quilt Show, where Lions again park cars. During October's Clifton Day, Lions Club members cook and sell hot dogs and hamburgers, and in December comes the fruit and Christmas trees sale at University Mall.
Gary Reed's been a member of the Clifton Lions, almost nine years. "You also do it for the camaraderie," he said. "You meet a lot of nice people." He said Clifton's club has about 45 members, but has "grown a lot in the last couple years by word of mouth."
Chesley first came in contact with the club in 1994. "They asked me to come speak to them, as Clifton's mayor," he said. "I joined in October 1995. They were a bunch of neat guys, and I liked the idea of what they do — professionals who volunteer their time to help the sight- and hearing-impaired."
Besides, he added, the fund-raisers are a lot of fun. "We have a good time together, and it's a hoot," said Chesley. "We're all from different walks of life and different faiths — all working together for a common cause. We all chip in and share the load, and the Lions do good things."