New Jersey nonprofit gives free glasses to those in need

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

New Eyes for the Needy is an organization that provides free prescription glasses to people nationwide. They also distribute used glasses to about 35 countries. Founded in 1932 by Short Hills resident Julia Lawrence Terry, the organization has purchased more than 430,000 eyeglasses for folks throughout the country.

“We would like everybody to understand that vision is part of a healthy lifestyle, that a pair of glasses should not be a luxury for people to be able to navigate their daily life,” said New Eyes for the Needy Executive Director Jean Gajano.

“It is a big hidden need. There are over 14 million Americans who have a disability, a visual disability. The majority of those could be corrected with a pair of eyeglasses. And of those 14 million, 84 percent of them live at or below the federal poverty guidelines,” Gajano said.

Gajano says the average cost of eyeglasses is about $200. The nonprofit pays $23 for their new glasses. They’ve partnered with FEA Industries in Pennsylvania, which manufactures and distributes the glasses.

“At no profit to them, they do it at cost to them, so that’s where we have the $23. That includes the frame, it includes the lens, it includes an anti-scratch, it includes polycarbonate lenses — these are all upgrades — as well as a 1-year warranty on these glasses,” Gajano said.

The Short Hills-based nonprofit just began hosting free clinics, which include eye glass fittings and an exam. The glasses customers chose are mailed directly to them.

“Honestly, it’s quite a relief,” said Prospect Park resident Hamilton Garces. “To have a relief that I don’t have to use a credit card to add more debt, because money out of my pocket is not something I can really do much at these times.”

Paterson resident Sharice Morrison says she’s had to wear glasses for most of her life.

“Every since I was in the third grade, I can’t barely see the board and it’s been really hard to get good grades from that. And it just changed my life, actually, wearing glasses,” Morrison said.

Last year, more than 13,000 people received new eye glasses from the organization.

Over the years, New Eyes has received thousands of postcards from recipients thankful for their new glasses, like one from a 13-year-old boy who says he’s now excelling in school. Others have said they were afraid of getting around town or falling until they got their glasses.

It’s notes like those that keep motivating staff and volunteers to help people worldwide see clearly.