ORLANDO – In what has easily become one of the greatest, most heart-warming traditions in Central Florida, dozens of Orlando Magic staffers spent Thanksgiving morning serving breakfast and bringing smiles to some 600 people in need.
Incredibly, it is the 26th consecutive year that the Magic have partnered with the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida to try and bring a bit of happiness and comfort to the area’s underserved on Thanksgiving morning.
Coalition CEO John Hearn, whose organization was able to transition approximately 1,100 Central Floridians into homes last year, factored it out and determined that through the years the Magic have served 60,000 eggs, 6,000 pounds of potatoes and 30,000 cups of coffee. However, the numbers that matter most, Magic President of Business Operations Charlie Freeman said, are the hundreds of thousands of smiles that have been put on the faces of those down on their luck.
"It’s just a chance for us to give back and we look forward to this day all year," said Freeman, who took turns scooping out potatoes on Thursday morning. "Being that this is our 30th anniversary and our 26th year doing this, it just makes it even greater. Giving back to the community is one of our core values and we really take pride in what we’re doing. But today it’s all about these folks and for them to come here and get a warm meal, it’s great and it gives us a chance to address an issue that’s very serious here in our community."
Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond took their roles as food servers very serious on Thursday morning as well. Even though they had college basketball scouting duties later in the day and will be joining the Magic on their nine-night, five-game trip to the West Coast later in the week, the two veteran NBA executives felt it was important to be a part of the Magic’s tradition of giving back of on Thanksgiving morning.
"This is what (Thanksgiving) is all about and for us, it’s just the best way to start the morning," said Weltman, who brought his family with him so that they could assist in the distribution of food. "One thing about this Magic organization is that they back up everything that they say they’re going to do and we’re deep into this community. I’m just learning this as I come here in year two and giving back is a special part of this organization."
Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford sponsored Thursday’s meal of eggs, sausage, potatoes, bread, cereal, granola bars, milk and juice. Following the breakfast, the Magic, Stuff the Magic mascot and the Magic Dancers held a carnival for the families in attendance. Also, the organization provided haircuts for those in need.
Virgil Williams Sr., a resident of the Coalition since June, was thankful for all that he had on this chilly morning in downtown Orlando. He was recently reunited with his children – nine-year-old Virgil Jr.; three-year-old Kevin; and five-year-old Randi – and he took great delight in seeing them being taken well care of. Williams Sr., an over-the-road trucker, said he is on track to have his family in a home by February and he said that wouldn’t be possible without the help from the Coalition. And he had much praise for the Magic and the meal that they provided on Thursday.
"It says a lot about the Magic and their organization for them to do something like this for us," Williams Sr. said. "A lot of times we don’t know where the help comes from and we just think it’s been given by the state or whatever. But the Coalition gets a lot of donations from the Magic. To hear all that the Magic have done for people, it’s like they have a calling from God. I know I really appreciate all that they do."
Pat Williams, co-founder of the franchise and a senior vice president, has been attending and giving the invocation at the Thanksgiving breakfasts for 26 years and he marvels at the joy that fills the room. He said that his organization’s mission of giving back to others stems from the strong beliefs of late owners Rich and Helen DeVos. He knows that the Magic back up their words of wanting to make a difference in the community and he was beaming with pride on Thursday after seeing the franchise again assist those most in need.
"I think this event is one of the most important things that we do in the course of a year," said Williams, who is celebrating his 50th season of working in the NBA. "Reaching out and impacting the lives of countless thousands through the years, that’s amazing. Helping these families in need, it gives them a very happy day and that’s important.
"When you talk about serving 500-to-600 people a year over 26 years, that’s many, many thousands of lives impacted," added Williams, who lauded the Magic’s head coaches through the years for paying for the breakfast. "I think it helps people realize that others care about them. And it shows them that their basketball team here in town really has a heart for people. That’s really meaningful to everyone.’’
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