Disney layoffs cause widespread hardship in Orlando

Published: Dec. 18, 2020 at 11:27 AM CST
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ORLANDO (CNN) - Coronavirus-related job cuts have been impacting Americans for most of this year.

In tourist locations like Orlando, local economies are seeing cascading layoffs. Tourists aren’t there to buy food or book hotels, causing still more job cuts.

People have lined up for food donations throughout the pandemic. But these people are suffering from particularly bad timing. Thousands of theme park workers have been laid off, and as they’re losing their paycheck, one critical food donation resource is suddenly disappearing just when they need it most.

Amanda Johnson and her husband made a living creating magic, but their fairy tale ended when they were furloughed from the Walt Disney World Resort.

Months later, even after Florida parks reopened, Johnson was laid off - one of 32,000 U.S. Disney employees expected to lose their jobs by March.

“I feel like drowning here. And it’s just the worst thing. People come here to have a good time and we’re all suffering,” Johnson said.

One of their three children has autism and epilepsy.

“Thinking about, like one hospital visit would almost like bankrupt you,” she said.

Johnson said she’s making food deliveries just to be able to give the kids a Christmas and soon, they’ll be hard-pressed to pay the mortgage.

Former employees of Disney, Universal, Sea World and others are on both sides of the line, receiving donations and volunteering, too.

“We’re focused on the members and we started out feeding 200 families and it ballooned into two thousand,” Nick Caturano said.

Artists who used to perform for theme park guests are now entertaining each other.

And cheering up is a necessity - when these boxes represent less than 10% percent of the food that used to be available, according to the Society of St. Andrew.

Farmers they work with had funding from the federal Farm to Families program to get fresh food into boxes and delivered to food banks. But that money ran out sooner than expected.

“What keeps me up at night is that child that will go to bed hungry,” said Barbara Sayles, Florida regional director for the Society of St. Andrew.

In an area whose lifeblood is tourism, the trickle-down effect on other jobs is apparent, as motels are now filled not with out-of-towners but with the unemployed, like Jose Cruz, who lost his job at Home Depot.

“The majority of people do work in these theme parks. And if they’re not buying appliances and they’re not buying things from Home Depot, then I don’t have a job to deliver anything to these people,” Cruz said.

“That’s where my Disney journey ends for now,” Johnson said.

Theme parks may be suffering, but the success of Disney’s streaming service - Disney Plus - has sent Disney stock to its all-time high.

Meanwhile, park employees echo Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s optimism around the vaccine, hoping guests and work will one day return, like magic.

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