By John Denton, OrlandoMagic.com
Just like on the basketball court hours earlier when they had defeated the Detroit Pistons, members of the Orlando Magic were hand in hand and working together for a common cause on Thursday morning.
Only this time the cause was feeding the homeless in Orlando and attempting to bring some cheer to those in need on Thanksgiving morning. Magic Head Coach Jacque Vaughn was scooping out scrambled eggs, Jameer Nelson was handing out cinnamon rolls and Maurice Harkless was pouring milk into Styrofoam cups. Not far away, Magic CEO Alex Martins was in charge of grits, Hall of Famer Pat Williams was tearing apart biscuits and Glen “Big Baby’’ Davis had 2-year-old daughter, Amari, in one hand and an egg scooper in the other.
For a 20th straight year Magic executives, coaches, players and staff worked at the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida to serve Thanksgiving breakfast and host a kids’ carnival. This year’s event was a massive undertaking as more than 800 men, women and children ate breakfast, played games and took pictures with Vaughn and the Magic players.
Martins, who has participated in roughly three-quarters of the 20 annual Thanksgiving day events that the Magic have held at the Coalition, said it’s remarkable to think about the tens of thousands of lives that the Magic have touched through the years. Martins regularly calls the event “one of my favorite days of the year” because of the smiles and cheer it brings to those in need.
“This is our 20th year of serving the homeless at the Coalition and it’s an event that we look forward to every year because it’s giving back to our community. It’s really become a Thanksgiving tradition for the Magic and the Coalition,” said Martins, who along with the Magic staff were treated to a video tribute honoring the 20 years of service. “To give up part of our mornings on Thanksgiving is nothing compared to what a lot of these people are going through. Not being able to go home like the rest of us and have Thanksgiving dinner with their families has to be difficult. It’s just a small contribution to give back to a community that has given so much to us. We just want to make this morning a little brighter for those who are homeless.”
Vaughn said upon taking the head coaching job with the Magic that it was impressed upon him the franchise’s long-standing commitment to giving back the community. The Orlando Magic Youth Fund gave $1 million to 19 local non-profit organizations last year, including a $42,000 grant to the Coalition for the Homeless. Also, Magic employees worked more than 6,000 hours on community projects and for charitable organizations last year.
Vaughn did his part on Thursday morning by sponsoring the Thanksgiving meals for more than 800 people. Vaughn said that he has so much in his life to be thankful for and he wanted to do what he could for those in need at Thursday’s event as a way of showing his appreciation.
It makes you appreciate what you have. It’s a day of Thanksgiving and it makes you thankful for the opportunities that you have, the friends, family and relationships that you have and it’s just a great day to reflect upon that,” said Vaughn, whose Magic (4-7) beat the Pistons 90-74 on Wednesday night. “Giving back is extremely important to me. This is a commitment that was stressed to me (upon taking the job) and it’s a commitment that I want to be a part of. It’s great to say that you are helping someone and doing it in a positive way.”
One family that was especially grateful for all that Vaughn d the Magic did on Thanksgiving was James and Jessica Esterby of Orlando. Jessica, who was accompanied by 6-year-old daughter Autumn and 4-year-old son Jessie James, recently used the resources at the Coalition for the Homeless to secure a telemarketing job, while James is getting certified to drive a fork lift. The family had nowhere to turn when both James and Jessica lost their jobs in technical support and they became homeless when they could no longer pay the rent. The family is now on its way toward recovery, and another step in that process was getting a hot Thanksgiving meal provided by the Magic.
“It’s a lovely event that the Magic are putting on. It’s unfortunate that we’re here (homeless), but to have something like this, it just makes for a nice day for us,” Jessica said. “My kids are loving it. It really makes for a perfect Thanksgiving for us.”
Just hours after the Magic had whipped the Pistons on Wednesday night, Nelson, Davis and Harkless made it a point to rise early on Thanksgiving to give back to those in need. Nelson said he actually got a little teary upon watching the 20-year tribute video because he realized the massive impact that the Magic have had in touching so many lives.
“Some of these people don’t remember when they’ve had their last good breakfast like this or when they will the next one, so our time is more valuable here than on any basketball court,” Nelson said. “I was actually getting a little sad seeing the video and realizing how people sometimes only see you as a basketball player, but doing things like this to help people is so much more than sports.”
Added Davis, who grew up poor as a child in Louisiana and is thankful now for all that he has: “It just feels so good to see other people smile and it’s nice to be able to affect their day in a positive way. If the short period of time that we give makes them happy I’m glad to do it. Sometimes the seeds that you sew can help to put people in a better situation and there’s so much good that comes out of an event like this.”
Coalition CEO Brent Trotter thanked the Magic for their 20 years of support of the facility and its programs. Thursday’s event was the final one in the old dining hall as the Coalition will open a two-story, 33,000-square-foot venue next fall that will be able to accompany housing for 250 men. The facility will also have areas designed for case management to provide one-on-one services to those who have fallen on hard times and are homeless or without work. None of it would have been possible without grant money and support from the Magic, Trotter said.
“I just want to thank the Magic for what is a great partnership,” Trotter said. “I want to thank them for being THE organization in our community that says WE WILL make a difference. That is so important to us.”
As the longest-tenured player on the Magic with nine years in the organization, Nelson has gotten to see first-hand the difference that franchise makes in the community. Nelson has worked at several of the Thanksgiving morning events and he said it’s a source of pride for him to be a part of a professional organization that does what it can to give back to those in need in Central Florida.
“I’m in an organization that gives back a lot and they know what it means to help people in this city,” Nelson said. “That makes me really proud.”