MANATEE -- The sense of community and goodwill was spiked with harsh reality Christmas morning as members of the Jewish community Congregation Ner Tamid reached out to the homeless to serve a hot meal.
Everyone, volunteers and homeless alike, had their own unique reason for spending the holiday at Our Daily Bread at the Bill Galvano One Stop Center, whether as a chance to serve, a means of survival or a glimmer of hope.
"You do certain things around certain times of the year, and this is what we do for Christmas," said Marvin Shephard, a volunteer for the past seven years. "You get used to it and keep going back to help."
For Shephard, the event is a family affair. When the Congregation Ner Tamid steps in to give the regular One Stop volunteers a day off, his wife and his daughter, visiting for the holidays from Washington, D.C., also participate.
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This is the 14th year the Congregation Ner Tamid has spent Christmas at Our Daily Bread serving turkey, bread, vegetables, stuffing and pumpkin pie to the homeless and the hungry.
Shephard said he often sees the same faces come through year after year. This year was Tim O'Leary's second time at the One Stop Center.
O'Leary originally moved to Bradenton from Chicago and managed his own boat repair business. However, financial troubles forced him to close.
O'Leary said he was getting back on his feet this year, but three weeks ago, a friend's mobile home where he was staying caught fire. The mobile home, and most of O'Leary's and his friend's belongings, were destroyed.
"I've just been going from place to place, but I'm getting back on the right path," O'Leary said.
Shephard said he anticipated a crowd of about 150 to file through the line for food and a sense of community on Christmas.
The meal attracted 20-year-old Martin Bock, who is recently homeless. Bock has lived in Bradenton his whole life.
"I lived with my mom on the same block in the same house for practically my whole life," Bock said. "We were evicted about a month ago."
Despite their efforts to stay in the house, including an agreement to trade a moped for two months rent, it wasn't enough to keep up with payments.
Bock, who has stayed with his late father's former fiancee, the Salvation Army and even in parks, said this is a new experience for him.
"It doesn't take much to be homeless," Bock said.
He said he blames himself for part of his struggle. While his mother is living with his aunt in Seminole, Bock remains in Bradenton as he continues the battle of overcoming drug addiction.
Bock said he burned through most of the inheritance from his father he received when he was 18 on pain killers.
"I think about it all the time. I could have done so much good," Bock said. "But when you're under the spell, you can't control yourself at all."
Bock's journey to recovery at a local addiction clinic is keeping him from moving in with his mom and aunt.
"My first wish is to be clean. This is the biggest thing," Bock said. "Then my dream would be to get a job I love and have my own family with a home."
Shephard said hearing the stories of those who come to get a meal is what brings him back year after year.
"It is almost a requirement now," Shephard said.
Erica Earl, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.