For some of Orlando’s homeless, a little Disney Magic this Thanksgiving

Disney volunteers return to help provide Thanksgiving meal for the homeless

Disney speaks with News 6 about tradition to help Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida

ORLANDO, Fla. – Walt Disney World volunteer cast member returned this week to help in a holiday tradition — feeding the homeless.

Every year for more than 20 years, World Disney World’s culinary teams take turns preparing a traditional Thanksgiving meal for the residents at Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.

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This year, it’s the Disney’s Hollywood Studios team.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios team (Disney Parks Blog)

“They are using the same ingredients, the same food that are in their kitchens to put together a traditional Thanksgiving meal with all the fixings,” said Tajiana Ancora-Brown, the director of external affairs at Walt Disney World resort. “So you will see the turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and dessert.”

Ancora-Brown says the team also uses the same ingredients they use in the parks and resorts to create the meal.

The Thanksgiving meal is part of Disney’s VoluntEARing program, where cast members donate time to help in the community. Disney matches those donations of time, turning the money into grants. Since 2010, Disney says it’s matched $71 million in cast members time, as well as monetary donations.

Disney volunteers worked at local charities ranging from Give Kids the World Village in Kissimmee to Second Harvest Food Bank and Coalition for the Homeless.

But the pandemic disrupted those in-person volunteering efforts.

“We were finding ourselves in a place where our resorts were going to be temporarily closed and we spent quite a bit of time collecting all of the food across the resort and donating it to Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, and then continue to sort of keep up with with any opportunity that we had to help in a very critical way” Ancora-Brown said.

In 2020, The Walt Disney Company gave $333.1 million in cash and in-kind donations to nonprofits around the world.

However, Disney cast members like Keith Drosehn says they are excited to be back out in the community, volunteering.

“You know, I’ve done this (Coalition for the Homeless event) several times, and it’s just volunteering to me, it just brings me happiness, and I think it brings happiness to everyone around you,” said Drosehn, a 30-year cast member who tries to volunteer at least 200 hours every year.

The Coalition for the Homeless provides shelter to up to 500 men, women and children on any given night, along with meals and case management help to try and get them off the streets.

“What we’re seeing a lot of right now are folks that are homeless for the first time,” said Meredith Bekemeyer, vice president of development. “It’s really heartwarming, and all of our guests from our youngest to our oldest, all appreciate it and they all love when they see Disney’s culinary team coming because they know they’re going to have this amazing really, you know, high-quality delicious meal and especially on Thanksgiving, when folks are staying in shelter.”

Drosehn says it touches him to bring smiles to the faces of the children especially.

“They’re not proud to be in that situation,” Drosehn said. “But just knowing that there are people that care, and especially Disney cast members, and kudos to the chefs for creating this delicious meal for them... just to get this extra taste, you know for a holiday and it just means so much to them.

Walt Disney World is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an 18-month long celebration. Disney VoluntEARs are taking part in a 50 for 50 challenge in honor of that. Cast members who volunteer for 50 hours and attend 50 VoluntEARs events will be eligible for specially themed EARidescent commemorative prizes. After volunteering for 10 hours, Disney will also give the cast member $100 to donate to the nonprofit of their choice.

Disney has also donated $3 million in grants to six Central Florida nonprofits in honor of the 50th anniversary celebration:

Click here to learn about the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.

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About the Authors:

Christie Zizo joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.

Landon joined News 6 in 2017. He grew up in Southern Illinois and graduated from Southern Illinois University with a bachelors degree in TV and digital media. When he is not at work you can catch him at one of Orlando's theme parks or the beach. Before working at News 6 he worked for stations in Miami and Fort Myers.