BRADENTON -- Sometimes, a hot plate of food and a welcoming smile is all we need during the holidays.
But having someone to share it with, for some, is the gift that evokes the true spirit of Christmas.
That idea holds true for Bradenton's Jim Cullen.
To Cullen, a 40-year-old tree trimmer, Christmas isn't about the number of gifts he receives. Nor is it about lights on a tree.
For Cullen, it's about his family and the love they share for one another.
Cullen, who on Monday was among dozens to enjoy a free Christmas Eve meal at Our Daily Bread, a community organization devoted to feeding the needy in Bradenton, said he came from a household where money wasn't an issue. But as an only child, he lacked the joy of having someone to share his toys with. Christmas, he discovered, was more than wrapping paper and material items.
"That doesn't mean anything unless you have someone
to share it with," he said.
At Cullen's side Monday were his daughters, Abigail, 4, and Ariana, 3. Cullen also has an 8-month-old daughter who was not present. The true meaning of Christmas for Cullen, are the moments like the one he experienced Monday morning.
With his loved ones, together.
"It's about seeing that everyone is warm and safe," he said. "It's about spending time with people."
John Green lives just a few blocks from Our Daily Bread located inside the Bill Galvano One Stop Center at 701 17th Ave. W. For five years, Green has worked in the organization's kitchen and for five years, has worked on Christmas Day.
As Green walked from table to table Monday, picking up empty plates and chatting with each visitor, one of his coworkers silently whispered, "He's the backbone of this place."
"I like helping people," said Green, a slim jokester who visibly towers above everyone else.
The pay is not much but for Green, it's enough. He, like Cullen, is thankful for gifts that resonate beyond what's in a stocking or under the tree.
"One day I woke up in the morning and I looked out my window and I saw a guy with a sleeping bag over his shoulder," he said. "I couldn't be homeless. That's my motivation every day."
As they pack their belongings and prepare to leave Our Daily Bread, Abigail and Ariana draw smiles from volunteers and others enjoying the food. Jim Cullen smiles, as a proud father should.
"Time together," he said. "That's more important than anything else."
While locking the entry door to the kitchen, Green hears a voice from the parking lot.
"You got one more."
Green holds the door open with a smile. One more mouth will be fed on his watch.
"It's a blessing," he said.
Nick Williams, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams