Walt Disney World is a magical place, a place where a dream is a wish your heart makes. However, since the shutdown March 17th at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, many have been having to face a harsh reality, one that they never saw coming.
A brain child of Disney employee since 2013, Emily Lartigue, 28, felt that this was a way that she could help ease some of the stress and uncertainty that cast members were feeling.
After being furloughed herself, on April 19th, she did not sit still very long and decided to use her unexpected free time to spread some magic to her fellow Cast Members, starting the pantry pretty quickly, inviting cast members who had been furloughed as well and some that had been laid off. She returned to work in June, she said, adding that many of her colleagues and friends are still out of work. “I’ve been very lucky to scrape by through all of this,” Lartigue said. However, being back to work has not slowed her down. With the help of companies like Publix, WaWa, Marco’s Pizza, Sweetwater Car Wash and of course donations from people in the community, it has really been a community project.
With a little faith and some pixie dust, Lartigue started the food pantry program, now dubbed “The Cast Member Pantry,” out of her own garage after Disney’s College Program was shut down due to COVID-19. Lartigue collected excess food items from the program and recruited her friends to help stockpile on canned goods like tuna, chicken, boxed pasta, jars of sauce and snacks like Goldfish and Oreos. Eventually, the pantry grew out of her garage and into a storage unit.
Lartigue and her team have distributed 8,000 bags of food since March. Each is given out every Saturday and former cast members can register via a Survey Monkey link with their Disney ID to get access to pantry items. Cast members who have been furloughed can go to the storage unit and choose the food items they need, including toiletries like toothpaste, soap and shampoo.
Cast members will receive a reusable grocery bag filled with enough food to prepare meals for four, the pantry’s Facebook page says. But before visiting the Pantry, she requests that cast members make an appointment — and to adhere to CDC guidelines. Only two people are allowed inside at the same time. “We are requiring appointments to be made. If you have a mask, if you have gloves, please wear them when you come,” she said.
A Father and Son Bring a Wish to Reality
In June the first Disney cast members were called back to work; many of whom had been part of the 70,000 Disney World Resort workers furloughed in April. However, with the recent news just days ago that 28,000 of those still furloughed cast members will be laid off, others are awaiting their phone call to come back and create more magic or unfortunately be let go. One of those waiting patiently for their chance to return is Sage Starkey.
“It’s an emotional roller coaster ’cause at one point you’re like ‘hey! I get all this time off, it’s amazing!’” the 27-year-old live performer said. ” And then you realize ‘Oh no! I have all this time off and I’m not doing anything and I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back to work.’” In the meantime, Sage is trying to make the best of his situation doing what he loves most–performing.
So Sage’ father, a former Disney performer who now lives in Colorado, decided that they would make wishes come true through dance competition videos. The thought; ‘What do we do?’ Let’s put some fun videos together that people really enjoy,” he recalled. “And then that’s when we came back with the ‘Oh! Alright, but people are in need right now.’” That realization prompted him to spread a message of positivity while giving back to the community. The winner got recognition and had fun and the loser had to donate 50 meals to first responders.
Because they wished to spread some joy in this very rough time for others, it brought so much joy to them as well. “It’s just been so much fun to make. I’m so glad that I’ve been able to do this especially with my father who is in a different state which we’re not really allowed to travel right now,” he said.
The Father-Son duo also joined forces to cheer on graduates in Florida and Colorado after COVID-19 made them miss one of the most important days of their lives. “We showed up at their houses, socially distant, we threw them gowns and we made them walk a line-families were involved,” Sage said. “As an artist when you don’t have a job or a stage it feels like you have no purpose and these videos have given me a purpose back in the community again.” A purpose he’s holding on to with hope.
“We have to remember that we’re all in this together and as artists specifically we always say when we come out of this we’re gonna be bigger and better and stronger than ever and so we just have to hold on to that as much as we can.”
I have so many friends and collegues that are former and presently furloughed cast members. Going into the parks as much as I do, being able to bring a little bit of happiness and distraction to my audience is such a gift and a blessing and I know that those cast members are missing that so much right now. My heart goes out to them and I know that my audience as well is feeling for them and wants to help.
Those who wish to donate can do so via the group’s Venmo account @castmemberpantry. You can also donate through these other Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resources:
Cast Member Food Pantry: www. facebook.com/castmemberpantry
Second Harvest Food Bank of Central FL: www.feedhopenow.org
Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County: www. feedoc.org
Cast Member Food Bank, Hosted by Workers United Local 50; www.facebook.com/WUlocal50
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