MILLBURN — Think about the number of people in your life who need or use eyeglasses. Now think about what their lives would be without those critical vision aids.

"How do you read a computer? How do you read a bus schedule? How do you read a train schedule? How do you see the board in school? How do you even leave your house?" asked Jean Gajano, executive director of Short Hills-based New Eyes for the Needy. "When you think about a pair of glasses, it's such a simple thing. I mean, if you think about poor vision as a disease, we've got the cure, and it's a simple but critical pair of glasses."

New Eyes was founded by a Short Hills resident in 1932, and since then, the nonprofit has provided free prescription eyeglasses to those who cannot afford them in New Jersey and throughout the United States. Their volunteers also accept, sort, and distribute used glasses all over the world.

According to data collected by New Eyes, the current average cost of a pair of glasses is about $200. And while that price could be prohibitive regardless of age, Gajano said it's worth noting that Medicare covers eye exams — but not eyeglasses. All in all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 4 million people do not have access to corrective eyewear.

To remedy some of these problems, New Eyes is in the thick of two fundraising campaigns, one that just launched and another that has been going on for the last two years.

The Double Your Donation initiative runs through the end of the year and stems from an anonymous donor who has pledged to match each donation the organization receives, dollar for dollar. If fundraising goals are met, Double Your Donation has the potential to help more than 8,000 people, and grow the total number of people New Eyes reaches from 10,000 in 2017 to 15,000 this year. Actor/producer Jake Gyllenhaal has taken the lead as the celebrity spokesman for this campaign.

The other campaign, which began in 2016, is called 20/20 for 2020. Gajano said its premise is similarly simple. Its name, taken from the standard for visual acuity as well as the concluding year of the program, has laid out dual goals of raising $1 million for new prescription eyeglasses, and collecting 1 million used glasses for redistribution. Gajano said that halfway through this endeavor, New Eyes is pacing just about halfway to both goals.

New Eyes for the Needy is continuously accepting used eyeglasses and looking for more volunteers. To find out more about the organization and its mission in New Jersey and beyond, visit

Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." He had two surgeries on his right eye before age 5 and — thanks to years of wearing glasses — credits the late Dr. Anthony Caputo with making his natural vision better than 20/20. Follow Patrick on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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