ORLANDO – Quite possibly, none of the approximately 275 Orlando Magic and UnitedHealthcare staffers generously working to pack food supplies on Friday identified with the root cause of the event – hunger – more than Bismack Biyombo.
Biyombo, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo and a bruising center for the Magic, knows all too well about the problem of hunger around the world and, more specifically, in Central Florida. After all, when Biyombo was a child and his parents were once without work, he was forced to survive by eating just one meal a day.
``I was around 10 or 12 and it was a few years before I started playing basketball and it was when my parents couldn’t get a job, because a lot of people there were jobless and are still jobless there,’’ recalled Biyombo, who was one of seven children to father Francois and mother Francoise Biyombo in DR Congo. ``It takes me back to those moments (of being hungry and without food) and when I go back home it takes me back (to those difficult memories). I’m sure there are so many people out there who just wish to have a cookie at night.’’
Biyombo, teammate Aaron Gordon, CEO Alex Martins, head coach Frank Vogel and staffers from the Magic and UnitedHealthcare teamed up on Friday at the Amway Center to assemble Hi-Five Kids Packs that will feed approximately 12,500 underserved and hungry children in the Central Florida area. It is the sixth straight year that the Magic and UHC have worked with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida in an attempt to provide food for children who are forced to go hungry on weekends and holidays when school isn’t in session and free or reduced lunches aren’t available.
``We take a lot of pride in this, but unfortunately we’ve got a problem in our community where kids are going home from school on the weekends and they won’t get a meal,’’ Martins said. ``Similarly, they go home for the summer and they don’t get as much nutrition as they need to get to make them successful. It’s unfortunate that we have to do this, but we take a lot of pride in the fact that we have the ability to do this, we have the wherewithal to do it and we can impact those kids’ lives.’’
UnitedHealthcare Vice President of Sales Glenn Baker praised the Magic for their partnership and their willingness to use their platform to shine a light on the problem of rampant hunger in Central Florida. UHC’s ``Do Good. Live Well.’’ program is one designed at preventing hunger and obesity, inspiring service and encouraging volunteerism.
``The Magic are a very philanthropic organization and their culture is one that really does care about the people and the community,’’ Baker said.
On Friday, Magic and UHC staffers formed teams to pack individual food bags filled with juice, milk, cans of spaghetti and beef, Mandarin oranges, macaroni and cheese, cereal, sunflower seeds, breakfast bars and cookies.
Gordon, who attended the packing event following the Magic’s practice session, said that with each bag of food he helped assemble he thought about the difference it will make in the life of a starving child in Central Florida.
``This is huge on so many different accounts,’’ Gordon said. ``When you have a full stomach, your mind works better, you’re able to contribute to the world and you’re better able to focus on what you need to do to be successful in life. There’s so much food in this world that no one should ever go hungry. We’re just doing our part to try and make sure no one goes hungry.’’
Biyombo knows the despair and distraction that comes with being hungry and he said that no child should ever have to go to bed at night starving. He ultimately made it through the tough times in his life and grew up to be a strapping 6-foot-9, 255 pounds – big enough to land a lucrative NBA contract. Friday was one of many instances where Biyombo has used his time and resources to help others in need. After all, he knows what it is like to go hungry and he wants to do everything in his power to help those who simply don’t have enough food to eat.
``Coming from where I come from, I can understand how important hunger is around the world,’’ said Biyombo, who recently opened a new school near his home of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. ``For me, it’s so important that the (Magic) organization and I keep going back to the community to try to find a way to help kids who don’t have (food) have it. I’m very grateful of being able to help and very grateful to be a part of this (Magic) organization helping out.’’
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