BRADENTON — The ever-expanding need for economic assistance in Manatee County is driving an overflow parking controversy near the Our Daily Bread soup kitchen.
Officials at the Bill Galvano One Stop Center, which houses the soup kitchen, say the cars of needy people are being towed when they mistakenly park next door on the property of Jones Carpet Company.
“There are so many people trying to get in here,” One Stop Center Executive Director Adell Erozer said. “This is ridiculous. Those people are working to make a better life.”
Our Daily Bread, 701 17th Ave. W., serves meals from 10 to 11:30 a.m. every day except Thanksgiving, and food baskets are handed out Mondays and Fridays.
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Kitchen manager Penny Goethe said Our Daily Bread is serving about 250 people per day, up from about 175 last year at this time. She said the daily number sometimes approaches 350 toward the end of each month, when clients’ food stamps and other assistance run out.
The crush of cars every morning is creating clashes between the people who frequent Our Daily Bread and Thomas P. Jones, the owner of the carpet company, 705 17th Ave. W., Erozer said.
There is a fence between the paved One Stop Center lot and the grassy Jones Carpet Company lot, but the Jones building has no signs indicating business is conducted there. On Thursday morning, the lot sat empty.
On Wednesday, Top Gun Towing, which sits across the street from the One Stop Center, towed two cars from the Jones Carpet Company lot, according to a volunteer parking attendant at the center who asked not to be identified.
The volunteer said Jones has been hostile with him and those who park in his lot.
“I’ve been everything but shot at,” the volunteer said.
One of the cars towed Wednesday, a 1992 Toyota Celica GT, belongs to 45-year-old Bradenton native Patrick Harpel.
Though he works as a waiter, Harpel said he is sleeping in his car temporarily and had all of his clothes and belongings with him.
“I was devastated,” he said. “It’s all I have. There are no signs posted. It’s close to the road, but it’s not obstructing anything.”
Harpel said he confronted Jones, who did not return the Bradenton Herald’s calls made to the number listed for his business.
“He said he didn’t call (the towing company). I don’t believe that for a minute. Now I’m broke,” said Harpel, who got his car back with financial help from the One Stop Center. “What do people do? We’re using that service because we need it. It boggles the mind.”
Top Gun owner Jim Stewart said he feels for those in need. He said he charges $100 or $125 to return vehicles, compared to the $180 some other towing companies charge.
“I don’t like doing it,” he said. “I stay away from private property impounds as much as I can. I spend a lot of time building up good will for my business. But if I don’t do it, somebody else will, and it’ll cost a lot more money.”
Stewart knows Jones well and even leases a lot in back of the carpet company. He understands Jones’ point of view.
“He just has enough room for a driveway,” Stewart said. “When people park there, he can’t get his truck back in there to unload.
“It’s kind of a bad situation. Really, the One Stop should put up a sign that says people can’t park there.”
Erozer said the One Stop Center has asked Jones to erect a sign prohibiting trespassers. She said the parking attendants are charged with keeping clients on the One Stop Center property.
“We tried to get somebody out there to tell people not to park there,” she said. “I’m not sure what a sign on our property would say.”