Center for Assistance to Needy Children
By Matthew Morgan
Franco Ibacache had been coming to the Center for 10 years. First, he came because he was hungry and he heard that the church ladies gave out food and also free toys. Then, he kept coming because he liked the company and made friends. Later, he came because he enjoyed hearing about God.
As a child, Franco's family did not have enough to eat. Franco and his brother began heading out to the streets to scrounge up enough to survive. In the street, he learned how to "steal" food from the market and sell drugs to make money for survival. "I was surrounded by bad people and by drugs", Franco witnessed to me.
Then, one day, he heard about a place that gave out free little toys and food to kids. When he arrived, he was offered a hot meal. Franco and his brother began going every day to the Center for Assistance to Needy Children (Advance #09751A), a project of The Second Methodist Church in Iquique, Chile. The food was good and he did not feel so guilty anymore about the bad things he had done in the streets. The church ladies, not just provided toys and food but also told him stories from the Bible and taught him manners and how to be good to people. They even helped him with the homework that he did not understand.
As he grew, he began to not only enjoy the food, but also to enjoy being around the other kids. He learned how good it felt to be cared for and loved. Everyone treated each other like they were part of a family. He learned that he was loved not only by the others there, but also by God. His life and his family was transformed by the grace of God through the works of mercy and works of piety of the church ladies. "I didn't believe in God when I was young, and they [my school teachers] forced me to say I did, but I didn't. When I came here, they [the church ladies] always were there to help me no matter what, and then I started to believe. Now, I know God is there for me and I trust in God's will."
Today, at 18 years old, Franco is still coming to the Center because he wants to feed others, offer a free toy to a child, be a friend to the other children, and tell them about God.
Currently the program has two staff, the director and a cook. It depends on volunteers from the church and community to help in the kitchen, assist with homework, teach manners, morals, and Bible lessons, and be there to welcome the children with smiles and hugs.
As a young adult, his high school offered a program that would allow students to work in the community to get practical experience. Franco knew immediately that he wanted to work for The Center for Assistance to Needy Children. He wanted to a channel of God's love to other kids the same way he had been loved . Today Franco volunteers every day at the program to help cook and serve the kids. He helps the kids build friendships and tells them about God's love.
The Center for Assistance to Needy Children feeds 36-40 children ages 2 to 18 each day. The majority of the operating budget comes directly from the Second Methodist Church of Iquique, and the rest from gifts through The Advance.