By John Denton
Sept. 19, 2017
ORLANDO – Orlando Magic and Orlando Solar Bears’ games usually elicit plenty of cheers at the Amway Center, but the repeated ovations filling the arena air on Tuesday came as a result of a much greater cause.
Each time a coach, player, executive or staffer from the Magic, Solar Bears or Lakeland Magic finished packing a healthy meal designed to go to hurricane victims in South Florida and Texas, the group would let out a loud cheer in celebration. In all, more than 300 employees of the Magic, Solar Bears and G League Magic packed 35,000 meals as part of Feeding Children Everywhere’s relief programs to assist those devastated by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
“We’re out here today because people in our community and throughout the state of Florida need our assistance,’’ said Magic CEO Alex Martins, who bagged meals alongside staffers for nearly two hours on Tuesday. “The first thing that goes through my head is feeling for the people who are going through (the struggles) the most, have been displaced from their homes, have lost their homes or have lost entire neighborhoods. It’s heartbreaking and for us to be able to gather our staff together for a couple of hours and try to help out a little bit to ease that burden, it’s really easy for us to do.’’
In addition to packing the ready-to-eat meals, another group of staffers from the Magic, Solar Bears and Lakeland Magic prepared hygiene packs filled with toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, soap and bathing supplies for Clean the World’s relief efforts.
Magic head coach Frank Vogel, who was joined by his coaching staff and several players on Tuesday to pack meals, said it was a noble gesture for Orlando’s sports teams to bond together to do work for those in need following the ravaging effects of two destructive hurricanes.
“This is obviously important because this whole area was affected by Hurricane Irma, and there are just a lot of people out there who need assistance,’’ said Vogel, whose Magic open training camp on Tuesday. “It’s great for our company to gather like this and give back. We’re about competing for championships, but it’s also important for us to serve our community and give back. People support us all year long and work like this is part of our mission statement to give back and support our community.’’
Martins said the Magic closed their offices last week because 80 percent of the franchise’s staff were without power for at least a short period of time after Hurricane Irma hit Florida on Sunday and Monday. Some 60 percent of the staff didn’t have power at their homes all last week and at least 20 percent of the staffers are still without power.
With the team’s offices closed down in Orlando and Lakeland, hundreds of Magic employees donated their time to work at the Second Harvest Food Bank, One Heart for Women and Children, Habitat for Humanity and by making blood donations. The Magic assisted Commissioner Regina Hill distribute bags of ice to residents, while the Lakeland Magic opened up the RP Funding Center in Polk County to offer free food and activities for children.
The Magic developed their Magic Volunteer Program (MVP) program back in 2006 in an effort to get their employees out into the community to offer assistance. Since the program’s inception, Magic staffers have worked 67,000 hours at various programs to assist those most in need in the Central Florida community.
“We poll and survey our staff after every major event and this is the kind of stuff that they want to be a part of,’’ Martins said. “They want to be able to help out and make a positive impact. A lot of other businesses don’t give their employees the opportunity to do this sort of thing, but because of our platform, our mission and our reach, we can mobilize quickly, get 300 people together quickly and make a major impact in a couple of hours.’’
Andrae Bailey, a partner for Feeding Children Everywhere, said his group wouldn’t have been able to ship out the 35,000 meals that it did on Tuesday if not for the group effort made by the Magic. He said the Magic set the standard for what a professional sport franchise should mean to a community.
“Listen, when you think about why this community loves the Orlando Magic, it’s because they put out a great team to win on the court, but they are winning in our communities every day,’’ Bailey said. “That’s why we love them and that’s why we’re going to continue cheering for them through thick and thin.’’
Magic players Jonathan Isaac, Terrence Ross, Shelvin Mack and Wesley Iwundu took active roles in Tuesday’s food-packing event. Iwundu is a Houston native and he saw recently the effects that Hurricane Harvey had on his home state. Ross, a West Coast native, evacuated his family to Atlanta – a drive that took 16 hours, he said – because he feared for his safety as Hurricane Irma approached Florida. Isaac grew up in Naples – one of the hardest-hit areas by Hurricane Irma – but he decided to ride out the storm from his apartment in Orlando. All of the players noted the importance of Tuesday’s event to pack food and supplies for those in great need now.
“The town always supports us and it’s only right that we support them,’’ Ross said on Tuesday. “Everybody is affected by this one way or another, so I just sort of feel like it’s our duty to help out and do whatever we can to help everyone get back on their feet. We’re having fun (with the event) and just trying to do everything that we can.’’
Added Isaac: “It’s really cool that we get to be a part of helping people and today we’re packaging 35,000 meals and that’s a big deal. I sent my family and they got a little (damage), but it’s not as much as it would have been in Naples. It’s sad what’s going on and a lot of people are hurting right now. It’s a lot to just talk about (helping people out), but the Magic are really doing something about it. We’re giving back to the community and that’s huge.’’
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