For the 29th Time, the Orlando Magic Spent Thanksgiving Morning Serving Breakfast to Those in Need

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - Spreading love, cheer and happiness in the community is embedded into the fabric of the Orlando Magic. Since the late Rich DeVos bought the team in 1991, the Magic have lifted the spirits of countless Central Florida residents through their warmth, compassion, and devotion to community service.

Putting smiles on faces and helping people overcome some of their greatest obstacles is what the Magic aim to do, especially around the holidays. That was once again apparent on Thanksgiving morning when for the 29th time they were at the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida serving a holiday breakfast.

Volunteering at this year’s event were Magic CEO Alex Martins, President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman, Head Coach Jamahl Mosley, his coaching staff, President of Business Operations Charlie Freeman, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Social Responsibility Shelly Wilkes, Community Ambassadors Nick Anderson and Bo Outlaw, and many other Magic staff members.

“It’s what the Magic organization is about. It’s what the DeVos family is about,” said Mosley, whose generosity made this event possible. “It just comes from top down. It just provides everyone the blueprint of what we are supposed to do and we’re called to do. It’s bigger than us. It’s bigger than anything we can do on the basketball court. It’s about the community. It’s about being champions on and off the court.”

With the pandemic still creating challenges and with many faced with economic hardships, the Magic are going above and beyond to elevate others and minimize their troubles. That munificence goes a long way in changing the narrative.

The empowerment displayed runs on a two-way street. Not only have the Magic emboldened many people over the years through their magnanimity, as they did during Thursday’s event, but the community has shown an incredible amount of support to the team since they became an NBA franchise.

“This community has done so much for us over the years in our existence,” Martins said. “This is just one small way for us to actually give back, and to do it ourselves, and to help out personally. To see the looks on people’s faces when we give them a plate of food, it’s just heartwarming. It makes it all worth it. We are thankful for what we have obviously, but (also) thankful for what we are able to provide others.”

Joined by her fiancé and daughter at the dining table, Anicia Fergusen continually thanked the volunteers as they served food and drinks. Sharing this holiday experience with her family made it even more special.

“It raises the spirit to say that there is a sign of hope,” she said. “Some days aren’t the same, but we go on and we just want to thank you guys (the Magic and all the other organizations assisting).”

The Coalition is the largest provider of homeless services in Central Florida, helping families and individuals return to safe, stable, permanent housing as quickly as possible. Last year alone, the Coalition served over 244,000 meals and ended homelessness for more than 1,600 people.

“When you are homeless, there are very dark moments, and this provides a ray of hope and a little bit of light in the midst of what can be a very difficult time in life,” Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida President and CEO Allison Krall said. “The other reason this is so beneficial is just the opportunity to be able to show that homelessness is a major, major issue in this community, and the need for us all to come together to help solve this problem. The Coalition is a partner with a lot of other agencies that are working on this issue. What this does it highlights that there are people doing good work. It takes the partnership of others to be able to make that work happen and ultimately be able to house folks.”

There were a few appetizers, so to speak, leading up to Thursday’s main course at the Coalition for the Homeless. Last week, Markelle Fultz, Wendell Carter Jr. and Chuma Okeke sponsored a Thanksgiving event at Eatonville’s Denton Johnson Center. Not yet traveling with the team as he continues to rehab his knee, Fultz was able to attend the event while the Magic were on a road trip and supply 300 turkeys, pantry items, and produce to seniors and families in that neighborhood.

The 6-foot-4 guard, acquired by the Magic in February 2019, also sponsored his annual “Fultzgiving” event in the District of Columbia, where he supplied 200 turkeys, pantry items, and produce for seniors and families in the Emery Heights community.

“He’s been doing it since he was little, so at this juncture in his life, it’s like second nature to him,” said Fultz’s mother Ebony. “It’s engrained in him from birth.”

This past Tuesday, Jalen Suggs, Moe Wagner and Franz Wagner were among those outside Orlando’s James R. Smith Center putting Thanksgiving meals in people’s cars during a drive-thru event sponsored by Amway Corporation.

“Whenever you are able to give happiness back, for me at least, that brings me happiness,” Suggs said. “To see all these people coming through, and smiling, and getting free meals so they can go back home and prepare with their families and have a great Thanksgiving, I don’t think it gets better than that. Basketball is so minute when it comes to doing these things like this.”

Participation from the coaches and players makes a big difference. When people see them going out of their way to serve the community, it shows they genuinely care about the well-being of others and want to do what they can to help them reach their full potential.

What it also does is inspire others. When people see an NBA team taking time out of their day to give back, it encourages others to do the same, which is why several of the Magic’s volunteers brought their own family members to participate in Thursday’s event.

“It’s so important that we actually get to be here with the people and serve them, and that’s why so many of us bring our family members along, and our kids, and we want them to take part of (it) and try to assist where we can,” Weltman said. “There are a great many people in need, and on a day like today of all days it’s really important that we all come together.”

These Thanksgiving events come on the heels of the DeVos family’s new giving pledge called "30 grants for 30 years." That effort will contribute a total of $3 million to 30 area nonprofit organizations over the next 18 months and seeks to invest in people and projects impacting youth, essential needs for families, and community enrichment across Central Florida.

On an annual basis, the Magic give more than $2 million to the local community by way of sponsorships of events, donated tickets, autographed merchandise, and grants. Magic community relations programs impact an estimated 100,000 kids each year, while a Magic staff-wide initiative provides more than 7,000 volunteer hours annually. In addition, the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation, which serves at-risk youth, has distributed more than $26 million to local nonprofit community organizations over the last 31 years.

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