Orlando Magic, Florida Blue Team Up to ‘Block Out Hunger’ in Central Florida

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - There are three plays in basketball that typically result in a massive applause from the home crowd. One of them is a clutch shot in the late stages of a close game. Another is a high-flying slam dunk. The third is a ferocious block.

Often, those rejections alter the game’s momentum. Not only do blocks deny the opponent from scoring, but they rile a team up, boost their energy, and make the other team question their shot selection next time down the floor.

For the Orlando Magic, those blocks are doing something else that’s very important, and that is tackle hunger.

Last January, the Magic and Florida Blue conceived an innovative plan to combat hunger in Central Florida. For every block the Magic had throughout the 2020-21 season, which ended up being 318 of them, Florida Blue would donate 10 meals to Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. That means Florida Blue donated 3,180 meals, with half of them going directly to Second Harvest and the other half getting distributed to families at Saturday’s “Block Out Hunger” event outside of Church in the Son in Orlando.

Making the experience even more fun and rewarding, attendees got to participate in activities such as basketball and cornhole, watch Second Harvest chefs concoct their recipes through live demos, get free haircuts thanks to Florida Technical College’s contributions, and talk with representatives from various organizations to learn how they can improve their lives in different academic, professional, and community areas.

“It’s a great gathering of community organizations because there’s not one organization that can help solve this challenge. We all have to come together,” said Tony Jenkins, Florida Blue market president for the Central Florida region. “Second Harvest Food Bank, the Orlando Magic, Florida Blue – we all live and work in this community. To me, I can’t sit back and watch my neighbors, watch friends and others in need without doing something to help support them. I’m glad that we are not standing on the sidelines as an organization. We are trying to find a way to get engaged and to support those in need.”

The stats on food insecurity are staggering. Not a surprise, but the pandemic has made the problem harder to tackle. More than 42 million people in the United States, according to Feeding America, may experience food insecurity due to the pandemic. That includes as many as 13 million children. This year in Central Florida, Feeding America projects one in seven people and one in five children live in households that may be food insecure.

It’s numbers like this that make the Magic, Florida Blue and the Second Harvest Food Bank even more eager and determined to fight this battle against hunger. By teaming up and devising creative strategies to change the narrative, they are nourishing more lives. With more than a half of million people in Central Florida unsure of when or where their next meal will come, Florida Blue and the Magic will provide an assist again to many families in need with the program continuing in the 2021-22 season.

“We know that there’s huge food insecurity across Central Florida, and the pandemic really only made that worse,” said Shelly Wilkes, Magic senior vice president of marketing and social responsibility. “If we can get people’s insecurity around food to lessen, that will help them learn better, that will help them economically, it will help them gain jobs, and with housing. So today, we really want to focus on the hunger initiative and going into this season we will continue to grow that.”

Having such loyal and compassionate organizations by their side is a big boost for Second Harvest Food Bank, whose mission is to “create hope and nourish lives through a powerful hunger relief network while multiplying the generosity of a caring community.”

“We’re always proud to partner with the Magic. But I can tell you that when so many people will come out on a Saturday to help distribute meals to people in the community, it’s a really great thing,” said Greg Higgerson, chief development officer at Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. “It takes a lot of people working together to make these things happen. You could see that here and at the end of the day there are going to be a lot more people with meals on their tables, and that’s what it’s all about.”

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