Tiffany Landow made a life-changing decision in mid-August. Addicted to drugs on-and-off for almost 30 years, she moved from her home in Cherry Hill, N.J., and temporarily left her family behind in order to get clean.
Landow found help at the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida. She enrolled in a substance-abuse treatment program. She's moved on to the Women's Residential & Counseling Center at the Coalition's main campus.
"My life is new again," Landow said. "I have my self-respect and self-worth back. I'm so grateful for the Coalition."
On Thanksgiving, she also felt grateful to the Orlando Magic.
About 175 volunteers from the franchise — Magic staff members and their families — served a holiday breakfast at the Coalition.
It worked a bit like an assembly line.
Coach Jacque Vaughn, who paid for the meals, scooped potatoes onto plates and passed the plates to his left. Rookie guard Victor Oladipo added egg strata casserole.
The plates kept moving from right to left. Magic CEO Alex Martins, with help from his daughters, Sophia and Gabrielle, served biscuits and sausage patties. Power forward Jason Maxiell drizzled gravy onto the biscuits. General manager Rob Hennigan and his wife, Marissa, placed fruit pastries onto the plates. And assistant coach Brett Gunning dished fruit cup into bowls.
Volunteers then brought the food-filled plates to tables. Others, including Magic Chief Financial Officer Jim Fritz and lead assistant coach James Borrego, walked from table to table to clean off trash.
"I dreamed about being here in the NBA and playing against the best in the world, but it's all about the giving-back process, too," Oladipo said. "I dream about stuff like this all the time, coming to homeless shelters and coming to places and just helping people out. It's always fun to make people smile and make people feel good."
The breakfast lasted almost 90 minutes.
The Magic have served Thanksgiving breakfast at the Coalition for 21 consecutive years. A couple of decades ago, the clientele tended to be homeless adult men. But things have changed in recent years. These days, more and more families with children need help, too.
"We used to say people are two or three paychecks away from homelessness," said the Coalition's president and CEO, Brent Trotter. "I think that's not true anymore. I think more and more people are maybe two paychecks away or maybe even one paycheck away from homelessness."
Omar Dookie and his wife, Babita, never expected to be homeless.
Omar worked for UPS. Babita worked at a hospital. The Dookies and their six children lived in a home in Clermont. They had a car. Then, they lost their jobs almost simultaneously. They tried to hold onto their house, but they couldn't. They lived in their vehicle for three months before the Coalition had space to admit them.
After breakfast on Thursday, the Dookies attended a carnival for children. Kids played on a moon bounce. Face-painters decorated faces. Magic power forward Glen Davis and former Magic players Nick Anderson and Bo Outlaw posed for pictures.
"It's like an ego boost," Omar Dookie said. "It's great. It's fulfilling. My kids are going bonkers."
"We would never get to pay for tickets to see these guys," he added later. "They're actually coming down here serving us food. Even though we're homeless, they don't look at us like, 'Oh, my God, they're homeless.' We're people, too."
Babita stood nearby, holding their 2-year-old daughter, Taliyah.
Babita hoped to take a picture with point guard Jameer Nelson, but Nelson didn't attend the event after he injured his left foot during the Magic's win Wednesday night.
But Davis was just a few feet away.
The Dookies took a picture with him.
"Unbelievable!" Babita said, smiling.
A few minutes later, Davis stood near the moon bounce, a Magic logo painted onto his left cheek.
"It's a good feeling knowing that you're doing something bigger than yourself," Davis said. "You're helping others. You're putting smiles on their faces."
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