December 10, 2015: Belmont Citizen-Herald
It’s not the Black Friday sales that tell Belmont residents that Thanksgiving is over each year. It’s the fact that Christmas trees appear for sale at the Lions Club. For many Belmont residents, one entrenched holiday tradition involves the family trek to choose the perfect tree to decorate for the holiday.
Some kids come with the hope of seeing Mr. S. Others talk and laugh with friends and neighbors they run into as they ponder this significant decision. Yet nestled within the 2,300 trees and 2,000 holiday wreaths the Lions Club sells each year is a serious purpose. The Club is one of Belmont’s pre-eminent local service organizations.
The primary beneficiary of the Belmont Lions Club largesse is the Massachusetts Lions Eye Research Fund. Eye research has been a focus of the Lions since Helen Keller challenged the Club’s first national convention to be the “Knights of the Blind” in 1925. In Massachusetts, Belmont Lions Club past-president Tony Giunta says, the Research Fund mainly provides research grants to address diseases of the eyes. One role of these grants, Giunta says, is to contribute seed money for “novel ideas.” Each dollar the Research Fund provides, he notes, leverages an additional $10 in grants. The Belmont community supports the Research Fund with hundreds of thousands of dollars donated through the Lions Club. The Belmont Club has also supported the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind.
Giunta has been a member of the Lions Club for more than ten years. He became interested after one of his customers –Giunta owns and operates Belmont Oil in Waverley Square—told him about various club activities. “I had no idea,” he said. “To me, the Lions Club was just a building.” In contrast is club secretary Tom Hevey. Hevey, a member of the Belmont club for more than 20 years, said that his father had been a Lions Club member, as had his grandfather before him. The Belmont club now has more than 60 members, ranging in age from the early 30s to the early 90s.
One role of the Lions Club, Hevey says, is to help “draw the community together, draw people together.” Indeed, many family traditions in Belmont involve activities that the Lions Club actively supports. Local events that the Lions Club supports include the petting zoo at Town Day, the Payson Park Music Festival, and the Light Up the Town holiday tree-lighting ceremony. “There is no agenda in what we do,” Hevey says, “We try to fill little holes—do what we can.”
What Giunta describes as the “joy” the Club hopes to bring to the community through such family events far transcends the dollars given by the Lions Club to support other local organizations and activities. But, unquestionably, the money is also important. Community organizations receiving Lions Club financial support are too numerous to completely list, but include the Belmont Dramatic Club, the Brendan Grant Foundation, the Food Pantry, and the Foundation for Belmont Education, amongst others. This is in addition to two college scholarships the Lions provide to Belmont High graduates each year.
In addition, the “tip jar” at the Christmas tree sales is a way to raise funds for a local organization chosen by the Club’s president each year. Last year’s tip jar, Giunta reported, raised more than $4,000 for SPORT, an organization providing recreational activities for individuals with special needs.
The Belmont Lions Club. It’s more than an historic building. It’s more than the annual Christmas tree sales. Since being chartered in 1948, the Lions Club has contributed time and again to making Belmont not just a town, but a community.