By John Denton
April 11, 2017
ORLANDO – Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel has worked for six NBA franchises and reserve forward Damjan Rudez has played for 10 basketball franchises all over the world and both said on Tuesday that they had never been a part of an event as caring and as difference-making as the one held at the Amway Center.
Vogel, Rudez and standout center Nikola Vucevic joined Magic CEO Alex Martins and UnitedHealthcare Florida CEO Michael Lawton and approximately 250 employees of the two organizations to assemble 12,500 Hi-Five Kids Packs for hungry children in the Central Florida region. Working with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, the Magic and UHC participated in the event for a fifth straight year so that underserved children will have food to eat on weekends and over the summer.
Asked about the Magic backing up their commitment to be champions in the community with their actions, Vogel said the franchise does it “more than any organization than I’ve been a part of, quite frankly.’’ And Orlando’s first-year coach didn’t stop there.
“All the (NBA) teams try to give back to the community, but I really think the Magic go above and beyond,’’ Vogel said after working in the assembly line to stock bags full with food. “This is a special thing to be a part of. I’ve done a lot of these events, but not one quite like this that gives food to the local food bank and takes care of the community. It’s really a great day.’’
Rudez, who has played professionally in Croatia, Spain and the NBA (three different teams) since 2002, said the Magic should be lauded for their work in helping to bring comfort to those in the greatest of need. Rudez said seeing the teamwork that went into Thursday’s event at the Amway Center made him exceptionally proud to be a member of the Magic.
“It’s heartbreaking (for children to be without food), so for the Magic to be involved in helping them – I’ve never been a part of an organization that gives back on so many levels,’’ said Rudez, a locker room leader who speaks eight languages and has played basketball in several points around the world. “I really hope the kids are going to see the benefits of this work. Just thinking about them being hungry over the weekend, it’s bad and we all have to do something to help out. I’m really glad we’re helping how we can.’’
The Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida partners with elementary schools that have a high percentage of students receiving free and reduced-lunch programs. Many of those children don’t have enough food when they get home after school or over long weekends and the Hi-Five Kids Packs help bridge the gap and ease some of the pain and suffering of hunger.
During the past year, Second Harvest provided 27,205 food packs to children in 14 local elementary schools. The work by the Magic and UHC means that the food bank will be filled with another 100,000 meals containing cereal, chocolate milk, beans and franks, beef stew, macaroni, peaches, chewy bars and fruit juice.
Martins said the Magic commit the time and employee resources to a project like the one on Tuesday because they know there are those in the Central Florida area in desperate need. It’s in the Magic’s mission statement to be champions on and off the court and the franchise takes that responsibility seriously, Martins stressed.
“We’d like to think that we set ourselves apart in terms of our community outreach, not just to do them, but to do them so that they will have a major impact,’’ Martins said. “We packed food packs for 100,000 kids that wouldn’t have food over the summer. Now, they will have food and can get through the summer. That means a lot to us and there’s a real impact to that. We’re proud to be able to help.’’
Tuesday’s project is a part of UnitedHealthcare’s “Do Good, Live Well’’ campaign, an employee/volunteer initiative aimed at preventing hunger and obesity, inspiring service and encouraging volunteerism. Lawton, UHC Florida’s CEO, said the partnership with the Magic has been a perfect fit because their goals align in wanting to help those in need.
“It’s a huge accomplishment doing this and what matters most is getting the food out to the kids who need it,’’ Lawton said. “I don’t think we realize what happens when kids leave school or what happens on the weekends or what happens every day with the number of people who are going hungry.
“So it’s important that we all do our part,’’ Lawton added. “This is our way of doing our part so that 12,500 kids go home with something. The Orlando Magic are phenomenal. They have 250 employees here and they’ve given 5,000 hours of community service. And at UnitedHeathcare, we’re fortunate to have over 6,000 employees in the state and we’ve provided over 82,000 hours of community service. It’s organizations like these that are making a difference in each community. You have to do it one (community) at a time, one by one.’’
Vucevic, who passed Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal on Monday night and became second all-time in rebounding in Magic history, said Tuesday’s event is his favorite of the year. He takes great pride in being a part of the fabric of the community and he loves that the fact that the Magic want to help those in need.
“It’s amazing that all these (Magic and UHC employees) came here today to volunteer to help the children, and I’m proud to be part of an organization that puts such an emphasis on helping others,’’ said Vucevic, the longest-tenured player on the Magic. “I’ve done a lot of events to help others, but these are the best kind of events by far. We do a lot of stuff with season-ticketholders, but when you have a chance to impact the community in any way that you can, it’s great. I’ve done (basketball) court openings and serving food on Thanksgiving. When you put a smile on other people’s faces – kids or adults – that’s the best thing that you can do. It’s actually a much bigger impact than anything we do on the court.’’
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