Every Thursday evening over the past year, Latter Rain Ministries' (LRM) Life Center has opened their doors and welcomed the community of Litchfield in for a free meal and family night. The Agape Community Meal is held weekly at 5:30 p.m.
The Life Center is a beacon of light to those who gather in its dining room, a majority of whom are more disenfranchised members of the community, many without regular meals or even support systems of their own. The communal meal was a long-held vision of former director and LRM founder Gwen Moffat Davis, who was inherently drawn to serving those in her community, particularly the children. Her dream finally came to fruition in March of 2018, and Agape Community Meal has served more than 2,000 plates in the 12 months that the program has been operational. The mission feeds between 85 to 100 people each week.
LRM ministries offers more than just physical nourishment to those that enter its doors. The ministry also extends spiritual nourishment in the form of children's classes and activities, and life skills classes for the adults. While the program organizers and volunteers hope that those they feed will partake in the classes, they do not mandate involvement.
"We try not to force our views on anyone. While we are a biblically-based program, we choose to extend our faith through creating a safe place for members of the community (often those who are on the fringes of society and who have little to no resources) to share needs and get support," said Agape organizer Deb Jayarathne. "We want to extend communal love and give them a place to feel like they have support. Hopefully that translates into a deeper appreciation for themselves and Christ."
In addition to the free meal and after dinner activities, current program director Asela Jayarathne provides free transportation to and from Life Center.
The weekly outreach is run entirely on volunteers and donations from within the community. Individual residents, along with community organizations and churches, provide everything from monetary donations, to meals, to manpower. Agape organizers are continuously seeking volunteers in the kitchen, children's classes and to greet and encourage those served.
"Initially we had a lot of people who were excited about the program and wanted to be involved," stated Director Jayarathne. "It is a huge undertaking though. The need is so great, but unfortunately our funding is not. It takes a lot out of everyone involved and people get burned out. We happily accept help in any form that comes in. Volunteers do not need to be a part of Latter Rain Ministries or even members of a congregation of faith. Anyone who feels drawn to support their neighbors through our program is welcome to join us."
The Life Center is located at 1285 East Union Avenue in Litchfield. Those interested in volunteering, donating or just attending the community meal may contact program director Jayarathne at 217-250-9996. Those in need of transportation to the meal may contact 217-324-6215 between 1 and 3:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday.