August 23 Program: Susan Dyckman gave an inspiring talk on NEW EYES for the Needy.
New Eyes was founded in 1932 by Short Hills resident Julia Lawrence Terry to help poor people get glasses. She solicited contributions of gold and silver framed glasses and huge numbers of unneeded eyeglasses were mailed to Short Hills. They were melted down and sold for scrap value. Income was used to give grants to agencies which provided eyeglasses with the correct prescription to individuals in need.
About twenty years ago, the process was changed to a voucher system. Individuals in the USA can apply for a voucher if they have had a recent eye exam and if they are poor. Old recycled eyeglasses are still collected but now they are sorted and distributed overseas (through other agencies) to developing nations where there is a need. Last year, used glasses went to 30 different countries.
In the United States, if someone is in financial need and needs a pair of glasses, they can apply to New Eyes for assistance. It’s a very simple application. New Eyes asks for basic financial information and evidence of a recent eye exam. Most applicants are in desperate financial condition and New Eyes issues them a voucher. Any optician can accept the voucher and will provide basic (value of approximately $60.00) eyeglasses in exchange for the voucher. Over 4,000 optical dispensers, including Walmart corporation's vision centers, will accept the vouchers and deliver a pair of basic, fitted eyeglasses to the client. The vendor submits the voucher to New Eyes. New Eyes sends a check to the vendor.
After the 1970s, the frames no longer contained enough precious metals to fund the vouchers. To get the necessary funds, New Eyes now applies for grants from foundations, asks for individual donations, holds special fund-raising events, and sells donated used jewelry and giftware at the “Fabulous Finds Boutique” in Milburn.
New Eyes receives special funds specifically for children’s eyeglasses. Ronald McDonald House Charity made a $30,000 grant. Last year a young woman organized a fund-raising event in New York targeting younger contributors. This year, actor Jake Gyllenhaal participated in the “See for Change II” event raising $15,000. The successful event was sold-out - standing room only. A third source is the Kids Rock for Vision Concert. Middle school and high school bands perform at a “battle of the bands” event in Summit. A fourth source was related to a Bat Mitzvah, where contributions of $20,000 were raised. Because of successful fundraisers, New Eyes can deliver extended services for children in need.
New Eyes is taking the initiative to search out needy children who will be helped through improved vision. They are working with a school nurse association to urge them to enlist their help in identifying children needing the services of New Eyes.
The overhead for New Eyes is low. The paid staff is very small, with most work done by volunteers. About 250 volunteers help New Eyes over the course of a year. Some come as groups - others are steady, regular volunteers. All ages are represented (one woman has volunteered for almost 60 years).
Donors can drop of eyeglasses at three official New Eyes sites in Milburn/Short Hills. Eagle Scouts often organize collection programs. Lions Clubs have their own program but sometimes give used eyeglasses to New Eyes. Knights of Columbus donate glasses. Optometrist and funeral parlors provide some used glasses. Many people mail to New Eyes packages containing 2 to 500 pairs. People should contribute glasses regardless of condition because parts might be useable.
To learn more about New Eyes, visit the website at http://neweyesfortheneedy.org/. You can also visit them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/#!/neweyesfortheneedy .