New Eyes for the Needy was founded in 1932 by the late Julia Lawrence Terry of Short Hills, NJ. The idea originated with Mrs. Terry when she worked as a volunteer at a Red Cross food depot during the Depression. So many applicants had impaired vision that she collected discarded eyeglasses from her friends, carrying the glasses to New York in a shoe box.
Mrs. Terry soon realized that the real need was for new glasses prescribed for each individual. As most of the used glasses she collected had gold rims, it occurred to her that this precious metal might be a source of income to pay for new glasses. She located a refiner and enlisted the help of opticians. New Eyes for the Needy was born.
With a workable plan in place, the most important task was to increase the collection of glasses. Mrs. Terry wrote countless letters to newspapers and magazines, made speeches at clubs and meetings and spoke on several national radio broadcasts. Immediately, packages began to pour into the Short Hills post office from all over the United States.
As the volume of mail grew, the Junior Service League of Short Hills took over the task of opening the packages, sorting and testing the glasses, and acknowledging their receipt. The League assumed full responsibility after Mrs. Terry’s death in 1947 through 1958. During that time, New Eyes operated in people’s basements, and, beginning in 1953, in the Benedict House of Christ Church in Short Hills.
In 1958, New Eyes for the Needy was incorporated in New Jersey as a non-profit charitable organization. A new headquarters at 549 Millburn Avenue was purchased in 1961, with a downstairs extension added in 1963 and an upstairs addition completed in 1967 for use as a Jewelry & Giftware Showroom.
During this period, New Eyes used proceeds from the sale of scrap precious metal to purchase new eyeglasses in the United States. People in need in our country received glasses primarily through grants to hospitals and clinics. Reusable plastic eyeglasses were sent to missions for distribution overseas.
In the late 1970′s, New Eyes began helping poor people in the United States through a voucher program. New Eyes hired its first employee, a part-time secretary, to administer the voucher program. Dedicated volunteers from the area continued to sort and test glasses. As the price of gold rose and the number of eyeglass frames made from gold declined, New Eyes turned to grants and donations from individuals to support the U.S. eyeglass purchase program. Susannah Likins, a former President of the Board of Trustees, became the first part-time Executive Director in 1993.
In 2015-2016, New Eyes helped 9,910 U.S. residents in need and recycled 248,945 glasses in 41 developing countries.