SHORT HILLS, NJ - Jean Gajano, the new executive director of New Eyes for the Needy, finally feels as if she has settled into her new role. She had been the organization’s volunteer manager for five years.
“At New Eyes, we do two things,” Gajano said. “We provide new prescription eyeglasses to people who cannot afford them, who live in the United States. And we accept, recycle and distribute used glasses overseas in developing countries. My job is to make sure that both of those things happen.”
Federal regulations prohibit the distribution of recycled glasses in the United States.
This worldwide operation is staffed by only one full-time and three part-time employees, along with “an extraordinary corp of dedicated, hard working, energetic volunteers.” In the course of a year, more than 250 volunteers help out. On Thursdays, a regular group of high school students volunteer.
“Last year we helped 6,600 people in the U.S. to get new glasses. This year, we have helped 5,900 and have 800 more on the wait-list. Back in December, we received a grant of $60,000 to supply that wait-list,” Gajano said. “But right now, our program cannot accept any new applications because we have such an overwhelming demand but we don’t have the funding to keep up with that demand.”
Funding comes from individual donations, corporate grants, foundation grants, partnerships and fundraising events. A partnership with San Diego-based organic juice company called Suja, whose line of Elements juices provides 20 cents to New Eyes for every bottle of carrot-beta juice sold. It is available at Whole Foods markets.
Another way they raise money is through the sales of jewelry and other goods at the New Eyes Fabulous Finds showroom. The items are all donated, it is staffed by volunteers and generates from $40,000 to $50,000 per year. The showroom is open on Thursdays from 1 ro 3 p.m. and five or six Saturdays per year from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. This is a great place to buy some nice jewelry at very low prices.
The used recycled glasses operation has been averaging 200,000 to 250,000 pairs of glasses per year, although a new partnership with Costco will be bringing many more. Consequently, they are looking for more volunteers. Volunteers range from high school students to senior citizens. Glasses were sent to 56 different countries on every continent except Antarctica last year.
“If the disease is poor eyesight, we have the cure, and it’s a pair of glasses,” Gajano said. “As somebody who has horrible vision, I do not know how I would function in my life without corrected vision. It would be impossible to do everything I have done. If you don’t have good vision, you understand how important is to everyday living.”
New Eyes was founded by Short Hills resident Julia Lawrence Terry in 1932, who made it her mission to provide glasses to those who could not afford them. They moved into their current location at 549 Millburn Ave. in 1963. Learn more at http://www.new-eyes.org.