This story was submitted by Fran Lytle as a nomination to the Reader’s Digest “Top 10 Nicest Places in America” contest: a crowd-sourced effort to uncover corners of the country where people are still kind and respectful in an era of cultural and political divides. If you know of a community, business, or nonprofit where kindness prevails, then be sure to submit a testimony or anecdote here before the June 5th deadline. (GNN will be one of the judges!)

Every Monday, a large group of volunteers serves a free hot lunch to everyone in Chincoteague, Virginia.

Manna Cafe CI was started by Fran and Bill Lytle in 2017 as a means of combatting food insecurity and providing a comfortable place for elderly people and the rest of the community to find fellowship.

On the first Monday, the café served 16 guests. Currently, they’re serving over 350 guests each week. The lunch is freshly made by Bill, who always prepares meals that his family loves. It always includes a main course, vegetables, tossed green salad, and dessert.

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Beginning in October 2017, Manna Cafe CI began delivering free hot lunches to people who are unable to leave their homes. The first time we did this, eight lunches were delivered. Now, Manna Cafe CI delivers almost 50 lunches every week, in addition to serving the hundreds of guests at the facility.

Stories about Manna Cafe

At Manna Cafe CI, a free hot lunch is served every Monday, including holidays. Since Christmas fell on a Monday in 2017, the Lytle’s wanted to have gifts for the children who would be enjoying lunch with their families on Christmas Day. They conducted a toy drive which resulted in more then 200 gifts for children, from toddlers to teens. When families arrived for lunch, children selected a present from the gift tables before enjoying lunch. The children were squealing with delight as they chose their gifts – and their joy was contagious.

Memorial Day also fell on a Monday, so the cafe served a free lunch then too. The lunch included hamburgers with all the fixings, potato salad, tossed green salad, and ice cream donated from the Island Creamery. One elderly guest shared that every Memorial Day, she hears the laughter and fun from a neighbor’s family party and she feels so lonely – but at Manna Cafe CI, she felt that she was at a community party.

In an interview with Cooperative Living Magazine, one guest shared that his home burned down two days before Christmas – but then he and his wife heard about Manna Cafe CI, and have been coming every Monday since then.

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“People have been so good to us!” his wife shared, mentioning how they received donated items for their new home.

The Loving Hearts and Hands table was also started by a Manna Cafe CI volunteer who wanted to give guests the opportunity to shop for items they may need by donating any money they could afford. It started in November 2017 to help guests purchase gifts for their loved ones during the holiday season. It’s evolved to act as a general store, where guests can shop for gifts or items they need every day. Any money that guests do give for their items are donated to the cafe to purchase food.

During the month of August, there are free school supplies so that children can choose from an assortment of items. The café also has a Take-1 table where guests can take free food and toiletries home to help them during the week. In 2017, we distributed over 300 coats to guests in need – and all of these things were donated by individuals and businesses in the community

The Lytle’s encourage youth to volunteer at the cafe so they can garner more experience to work with ministries like Manna Cafe CI in the future. In addition to the youth having fun meeting and interacting with the guests, the guests say that the place is full of extra joy when the youth participates.

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One elderly guest shared, “I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve made so many new friends.”

The Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives awarded the Lytles the 2018 Good Samaritan Award. The cafe is totally funded by donations so spreading the word about it helps us to obtain funds which then help us to spread the light.

(WATCH the video below)

Reprinted with permission from Reader’s Digest and submitted by Fran Lytle. To learn more about GNN’s role in searching for the Top 10 Nicest Places, click here.

Share The Inspiring Story Of Community Kindness With Your FriendsPhotos by Fran Lytle