“Teach children how they should live,” says Proverbs 22:6 (Good News Bible), “and they will remember it all their life.” College-bound students Abigail Franco and Aidan Barth were taught as children how to live by serving others; and now they are sharing those indelible lessons with their peers, their church and their community.
The two founded Linking Initiative for Neighborhood Change (LINC) to serve neighbors in need. And in March 2022 they opened the doors to the Resource Pantry at New Providence (N.J.) United Methodist Church. LINC is a teen-run organization that provides needed resources to underserved communities in Union and Essex counties, while also educating young people and adults about socio-economic resource inequities across New Jersey.
Abi and Aidan grew up volunteering in clothing drives, food banks, Thanksgiving basket donations, Christmas toy collections and programs for people with disabilities. Two years ago, as high school students, they saw a need to address the inequity of resources among many disadvantaged New Jersey residents. “We met the summer going into our junior year and have been best friends since,” said Abi. Together, they created LINC as a school-based community service club and a resource network to address needs.
They then created the Resource Pantry to help feed hungry families and meet other needs. When they needed a place to house it, Abi came to her father, the Rev. Victor Franco, pastor of New Providence UMC. The church’s former choir room is now that place, thanks to church leaders’ eagerness to help.
Church provides space, food for Resource Pantry
The historic church—the fourth oldest Methodist church in America, records show—is involved in several life-changing local mission endeavors. One is its Giving Garden, a robust community garden ministry, which provides food for the Resource Pantry and area residents.
With donated shelves, tables and chairs, Abby and Aiden began soliciting donations of food for monthly distributions, plus cleaning and feminine hygiene supplies, baby needs and clothing.
The busy enterprise and its many responsibilities grew fast. So, they organized a board of directors with bylaws, local partnerships and volunteers to help shoulder the challenges and opportunities of their new nonprofit. Along with that came invaluable education for their young peers, including talks at school gatherings about poverty, social inequity and possible solutions.
“My involvement with community service started as young as I could remember,” recalled Abi, proving the wisdom of Proverbs 22:6. She will attend Fairleigh Dickinson University in the fall, while Aidan will attend Rutgers University. “My dad is a pastor,” said Abi, “and therefore, growing up, I was constantly reminded of the importance of giving.”
Read TAPinto New Providence’s “LINC Food Pantry Founders Celebrate One Year Anniversary” and “The LINC Program is Welcomed to New Providence” from RennaMedia.com. Also visit the LINC website, created by LINC founders Abigail Franco and Aidan Barth. And see photos of New Providence United Methodist Church’s Giving Garden on its Facebook page.
PHOTO: LINC founders Abigail Franco and Aidan Barth in the Resource Pantry they established at New Providence UMC. Lani Mustacchi photo