ORLANDO – Of all the Orlando Magic’s many traditions – from the Amway Center public address announcer bellowing “Stand and Cheer,” to the ubiquitous presence of Nick Anderson, to those ever-classy pinstriped uniforms – this most certainly is the best and most impactful one of all: hundreds of Magic employees giving their time on Thanksgiving morning to help serve breakfast to those at the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.
For a 21st consecutive year, the Magic teamed with the Coalition to bring a smile to the faces of more than 700 needy Central Florida people. A hot breakfast with eggs, potatoes, sausage, biscuits and gravy, fruit, pastries, coffee and juice was served throughout the morning. And because the face of homelessness has sadly shifted from the middle-aged male to single parents with kids, a carnival was put on and free haircuts were provided by Paul Mitchell, The School. The annual event is just one of many ways that the Magic have tried to tackle the homelessness epidemic throughout Central Florida. Over the last four years alone the Magic have donated more than $2 million to homelessness causes in Orlando and the surrounding area.
Magic CEO Alex Martins, who manned the sausage station of the food assembly line along with daughters Sophia and Gabrielle, said the Thanksgiving day ritual has become a favorite tradition and a way of life for Orlando’s only big-time pro sports franchise for the past quarter-century. “This is one of my favorite traditions because we’ve been here for 21 years and it’s an opportunity for us to give thanks for all of the graces and blessings that we have as an organization,” Martins said. “We like being able to give back to these folks who wouldn’t have the opportunity to have a meal on Thanksgiving morning otherwise.”
Through the years, the Magic and the Coalition for the Homeless have established quite a partnership as they work to help the underserved. In 2013, the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation awarded a $50,000 grant to the Coalition as part of the $1 million in money that it gave to 19 local nonprofit organizations. And for a second straight year, Magic Head Coach Jacque Vaughn paid for the 700 meals that were served to happy folks at the shelter.
Brent Trotter, the president and CEO for the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, said his organization couldn’t serve nearly as many people as it does without the generosity of the Magic. Last fiscal year, the Coalition served more than 300,000 meals, assisted 565 families and provided services to more than 4,000 individuals. More than 650 people call the Coalition home on a given night.
“For the Magic to do this for 21 years, it’s phenomenal. Some organizations don’t even enjoy short-term relationships, but over the years there’s been such a partnership forged with the Orlando Magic that there’s almost an expectation on our part to see the players, coaches and management helping us out,” Trotter said. “It’s a huge friendship that we have.”
The Magic were well-represented at the event with 175 employees volunteering to serve food. Meanwhile, GM Rob Hennigan, Martins, Vaughn, assistant coaches James Borrego and Brett Gunning, star rookie Victor Oladipo and veteran power forward Jason Maxiell worked in one of the two food lines. Vaughn was in charge of potatoes, while Oladipo was scooping eggs, Maxiell was dishing out gravy, Gunning and Borrego took turns tearing apart biscuits and Hennigan was picking pastries. Vaughn said it meant the world to him to see faces light up with joy when people at the Coalition realized that people care about them.
“This is extremely important. We talk about having a connection with the community – not only on the floor, but with things we can do with the people in our neighborhood. This is pretty special,” said Vaughn, whose Magic (6-9) have won two straight games and host San Antonio on Friday at 7 p.m. “There are a lot of people who are in unfortunate situations and on a morning like this to see a family be able to eat together and share a meal together, it’s nice to see.”
Oladipo hit the floor several times and played a career-most 42 minutes on Wednesday night – his fourth game in a five-night stretch – yet he was up just after sunrise on Wednesday to make sure he was a part of the Magic’s Thanksgiving day tradition. He said in addition to dreaming about playing in the NBA for years, he also envisioned a time in his life when he would be able to give back to those in need. He was all smiles on Wednesday and said that he couldn’t stress the importance of the day enough.
“This is all a part of the dream for me of being in the NBA. You dream about being in the NBA and playing against the best in the world, but it’s about the giving-back process, too,” said Oladipo, the No. 2 pick in last June’s NBA Draft and a cornerstone piece of the franchise. “It’s always fun to make people smile and feel good. I’m blessed and honored to be here. They asked me if I wanted to do this and before they could finish, I said, ‘Yeah!
“This is like being a part of something bigger than yourself,” Oladipo continued. “Being able to give back to people who are less fortunate, it’s why God put us on this Earth. … For the people here to be happy and put a smile on their face, that means more than any game that we play or win. It’s a pretty amazing feeling.”Magic forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis was also on hand at the event, bouncing around at the carnival outside with kids. Because the downturn in the economy has hit families especially hard, approximately 25 percent of the residents at the Coalition are children with an average age of eight years old.
Davis was his carefree and gregarious self on Thursday, playing games and posing for pictures with children. He said it warmed his heart by giving others who need a helping hand.“To be able to have positive impact on a kid’s life is just so great,” said Davis, who had 19 points and five rebounds in Orlando’s defeat of Philadelphia on Wednesday night. “You never know what your influence can do for that child later in life, so it’s all about helping out. We’re here on this Earth to try and make it a better place.”
Trotter, who serves on several boards throughout Central Florida, said the Magic go above and beyond to make the Central Florida community a better place to live. He said signs of the Magic’s generosity are spread throughout the region and they impact thousands of lives each year. “I often wonder if the Magic are a basketball team that is involved in the community or if they are someone so very focused on our community who just so happens to also have a basketball team. Everywhere you go in this community you see the fingerprints of the Magic. Certainly, they are here with us at the Coalition for the Homeless, but they’ve also built the community gyms and the playgrounds in our community. Everywhere you go you see the Magic giving back to our community and investing in our community. We wouldn’t be the community that we are without the Orlando Magic being here, no doubt.”