Chincoteague’s Manna Café Nourishes Body and Soul
Fran & Bill Lytle Presented with the Electric Cooperatives’ Good Samaritan Award
A weekly gathering in Chincoteague on Virginia’s Eastern Shore disproves the old saying, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
Every Monday morning, volunteers arrive at Christ United Methodist Church to prepare a nutritious meal. Bill Lytle leads the cooking, while his wife Fran and other helpers set out salad, beverage and dessert tables in Fellowship Hall, a cheery room with oversized windows that flood the dining area with natural light.
At 10:30 a.m., everyone pauses in their work to join hands in prayer. Over the next two hours, the room steadily fills with people of all ages and walks of life, including watermen, hotel employees, senior citizens and children with their parents or daycare providers.
Feeding the hungry is the Lytles’ passion, but their efforts have evolved to provide much more. Everyone is welcome at Manna Café, where entrees are served on china plates and companionship is always on the menu. Volunteers often pause in their work of setting out food or clearing tables to chat with friends and welcome newcomers.
“What began as a service for a dozen folks now provides 300 people a week with social interaction as well as a hot meal,” explains Carol Meyers, an A&N Electric Cooperative member and Manna Café volunteer who nominated Bill and Fran for the Good Samaritan Award after reading about it in Cooperative Living magazine.
Fran and Bill own Brand Champs, a successful content marketing, branding and digital communications firm with clients in Philadelphia and New Jersey. Wanting to give back to their community, they launched Manna Café in January 2017. The combination of Fran’s social media expertise and Bill’s love of cooking quickly grew the Café’s following across Accomack County. More and more people showed up each week, with many becoming regulars.
Conversations with a few participants attest to the success of the Lytles’ ministry in partnering with local businesses that donate much of the food and supplies.
“I’ve met more people by coming here than from all my years living in Chincoteague,” one diner noted. For others, Manna Café is a meeting place where they can catch up with old friends. And for some, it has been a lifeline.
“Our home burned down two days before Christmas,” says Warner Ross. He and his wife Ethel lost everything but the clothes on their backs. They learned about the Manna Café soon afterwards, and have been coming ever since. “People have been so good to us!” Ethel exclaims, adding how they received donated furnishings for their new home.
Starting last October, Manna Café’s ministry expanded to provide meals to shut-ins and those without transportation, delivered by volunteers from nearby St. Andrew’s Catholic Church.
Working behind the scenes with staff at the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives (VMDAEC), the publishers of Cooperative Living, Meyers and the other Manna Café volunteers helped organize a surprise ceremony for the Lytles held on March 26, just before the weekly meal.
A&N Electric Cooperative President & CEO Belvin “Butch” Williamson, Board Chairman Addison W. Nottingham, Jr., and Vice Chairman Christopher Bott were on hand as VMDAEC Board Chairman James Huffman and Vice Chairman Herbert Patrick, chair of VMDAEC’s Awards Committee, presented the Lytles with the Good Samaritan Award.
While there, co-op representatives learned that the Lytles had recently established Manna Café C.I., Inc., as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation to facilitate donations and support from businesses that donate food and other materials.
“We’ll now be able to network with other community meal programs and expand our efforts by applying for grant funding,” explained Fran.
Williamson applauded this initiative. “Fran’s and Bill’s vision provide both food and fellowship in a welcoming setting, which embodies the seventh cooperative principle, ‘Concern for Community,’ ” he said. “We’re very proud to count them among our members.”
Visit www.co-opliving.com to see the Lytles’ award video and learn more about the nomination process for 2019 electric cooperative awards.