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Sirkin Center

Author Mary Roach Visits LightHouse for the Blind [Photos]

Author Mary Roach Visits LightHouse for the Blind [Photos]

Author Mary Roach’s bibliography looks a bit like a laundry list of corporeal functions – Stiff, Spook, Bonk, and Packing for Mars among them – but Roach’s books have been widely lauded for not only their fascinating and humorous take on very human issues, but for the deep research that goes into them. This month, she released Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, an exploration of the ins and outs of this integral industry which many Americans would prefer to ignore. And along the journey of her research, she arrived at our doorstep.

Mary Roach stands in front of giant paper rolls, smiling

Many people don’t know, but the blindness community benefits greatly from legislation which allows agencies with blind workers to bid for federal government contracts. The Javits Wagner O’Day Act provides jobs for several thousand and still is the largest single employer of blind workers across the country.

LightHouse Industries’ Sirkin Center, located in San Leandro, is the light manufacturing division of our organization which serves a very specific and crucial need for the American military and for numerous humanitarian and emergency organizations: toilet paper. Though it’s not something most people consider, individual tissue packets are provided in every Meal Ready to Eat box consumed by every soldier, disaster survivor or relief personnel. For more than 25 years the sole provider of these individual packets has been the LightHouse.

Which brings us back to Mary Roach. In the process of researching Grunt, Roach stumbled upon the LightHouse. There are other LightHouses (unaffiliated) which make airplane parts, clocks, and other goods for the federal government, but she was most interested in our plant for its very real and physical connection to our troops.

Mary Roach taking notes at LHI

As part of the promotion of her book, she asked if she could use these packets of tissue, branded with our name, to give out at book signings and on tour. She dropped into LightHouse Industries last month (Roach lives in Oakland) to get a tour of the Center and pick up some souvenirs. Afterwards, Roach wrote a bit for us about her interest in the LightHouse:

“The MRE toilet paper packets are my guerrilla marketing campaign for the new book, GRUNT: The Curious Science of Humans at War. I plan to leave then in airport bathroom stalls while on book tour, and to give them away to people who buy a book.

Having read the US military specs for toilet paper, I know that this is some quality TP that LightHouse for the Blind is cranking out (at a rate of 1000 per minute!). It was great to meet some of the people who work the operation – Skip and Pablo and David and Mike. Decent toilet paper is important to the morale of fighting men and women overseas, so the work these folks do at the LightHouse plays a more vital role than many might imagine!”

tissue packets with the word "Grunt" on them

You can pick up Roach’s novel Grunt anywhere books are sold, or if you’re a Bookshare subscriber, read it for free here.

Sirkin Center

Sirkin Center


At the Sirkin Center, we aim to employ individuals who are blind and manufacture the highest quality eco-friendly cleaning products and tissue packets. These products, which serve communities and companies around the world, will provide the utmost utility to clients, and demonstrate the strength and caliber of our Center.


Named in honor of Donald Sirkin, an extremely successful businessman in the contractor insurance and bonding industry and the Lighthouse’s most important donor, the Sirkin Center is a budding entrepreneurial heart of a growing set of social ventures and light manufacturing run by the LightHouse for the Blind. Located in San Leandro, California, the Sirkin Center also houses the LightHouse’s industrial employment program.

Acquired in 2012 and newly renovated in 2016, the Sirkin Center provides employment opportunities at competitive wages for people who are blind and visually impaired. Real time, on-the-job training has been a longstanding opportunity at the LightHouse. From the 1920’s to the 40’s, Lighthouse operated Blindcraft, where blind employees crafted baskets, brooms and wicker furniture. That tradition continued and was updated into the 1990s, when federal manufacturing contracts for the blind allowed us to modernize production which continues to this day.

Today, the Sirkin Center provides employment and can help employees get experience to advance their careers in customer service, shipping and receiving, inventory management and light manufacturing.

70% or more of the labor is provided by staff members who are blind or have low vision.


Currently, the Sirkin Center has a light-manufacturing plant making the tissue packets which are included in MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) utilized by soldiers and firefighters in the field. We also sell commercial-size sanitary paper rolls for use at camps, schools and other facilities, and a line of PRIDEClean chemical cleaning products.

PRIDECLEAN products are non-toxic, green cleaning products used at private and public facilities around the country. The products are non-toxic, contain no ammonia and no phosphates, are biodegradable and contain zero to low VOCs.

LHI also produces Skilcraft products partnered with the National Industries for the Blind and Ability One Commission.


If you are interested in renting space or employment opportunities and products of the Sirkin Center, located at 14690 Washington Avenue in San Leandro, CA 94577, please contact edi@lighthouse-sf.org or 1833-694-7422.

Giant paper rolls at LightHouse Industries in San Leandro