Manatee Jewish congregation helps feed the hungry for Christmas

kbergen@bradenton.comDecember 26, 2012 

BRADENTON -- Rhonda Mittler, of St. Petersburg, handed steaming trays of warm food to visitors of Our Daily Bread, a community organization that is devoted to feeding the hungry, Tuesday morning.

"Merry Christmas," she said with a warm smile. "Merry Christmas."

Mittler and several other volunteers wearing bright blue T-shirts at the Our Daily Bread kitchen, part of the Bill Galvano One Stop Center on 17th Avenue West on Tuesday, do not celebrate the Christmas holiday. But the Jewish members of Congregation Ner Tamid volunteered their time to allow regular employees time to spend the holiday with their families.

Helping out at Our Daily Bread was a family affair for Marvin Shepard of Bradenton. His daughter, Sharon, was visiting from Washington, D.C., for a week and joined Shepard and his wife, Marcia, at the kitchen Tuesday morning.

"Everyone is willing to help," Marvin Shepard said. "That's really what it amounts to -- a volunteer act." Shepard said his congregation also donated a check to the organization.

"I was happy to do it," Sharon Shepard said of spending part of her vacation time at the kitchen. "It's helping out for the holidays."

Congregation Ner Tamid has been together for about nine years, said its president, Elaine Mittler, Rhonda Mittler's mother. But many Jewish locals have been volunteering during Christian holidays for the past 14 years through other congregations, she said.

"It's a sign of the times. It's important.' Mittler said. "It's community, no matter how you look at it."

Members of Ner Tamid also volunteer on Easter Sunday, and try to coordinate other times they can help, Mittler said.

She said she couldn't pick a favorite memory over the years -- so many people she's helped are appreciative. Sometimes people ask questions about Judaism, and Mittler doesn't mind answering questions.

"They know that we are of the Jewish faith," Mittler said. "It's no longer a novelty."

Jason and Tina Ford, of Bradenton, biked to Our

Daily Bread to eat a meal around 11 a.m. on Tuesday. Jason Ford volunteers at the One Stop and said he often recognizes people who visit the kitchen.

"I wanted to check up on some of the guys I haven't seen in awhile and wish them a Merry Christmas," he said.

John Green, who has regularly worked at Our Daily Bread for the past five years, also elaborated on a sense of camaraderie that could be sometimes be found at Our Daily Bread. This was Green's seventh day of work, and he said though part of him wanted the day off, he enjoys the community that passes through this kitchen.

People here recognize him, even when he's not wearing an Our Daily Bread shirt and helping serve others.

"The other day I was at the gas station and a car was honking like I was Obama. Kids were hugging my knees," Green said with a laugh. "I enjoy it here."

By 10:40 a.m., about 120 people had moved through the line for trays of ham and turkey, green beans and potatoes, pies and cupcakes.

"It makes you feel good," said Judi Mendelssohn, who was volunteering for the first time on Christmas Day after having come out on Easter Sunday. "They deserve a break. It's not our Christmas."

Marcia Shepard elaborated.

"It's a mitzvah," she said. "A good deed."

Katy Bergen, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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