- January 6, 2021
Storage units often are a place to store things that take up too much space in the house.
But one specific unit at My Neighborhood Storage Center of Lakeside in Horizon West is home to something more important: supplies for Disney cast members in need.
The canned food, snacks and toiletries that fill the unit all were donated by people looking to help Disney employees who had been furloughed by the company in the previous weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s why Emily Lartigue — a cast member who was among those furloughed — knew she had to do something to help.
“I work for a company that really does care,” Lartigue said. “There is a need out there where we have cast who may be food insecure right now — especially with unemployment taking a lot of time for people to apply and applications to be approved.
“I kind of wanted to just stand in the gap — the gap of the unknown,” she said. “We don’t know when we will actually receive unemployment, but I just wanted to help out where I could. I’m lucky enough to be financially secure, but not everyone is.”
From that need to help, the Cast Member Pantry was born.
Like many, Lartigue — an Alabama native and current Orlando resident — got her start at Disney through the college program.
Since her start as a lifeguard at Blizzard Beach seven years ago, Lartigue moved her way up the Disney ranks. She participated in the management internship for a year before eventually taking on the role of consultant in organization development.
That new role she received as consultant? It happened just before the virus caused furloughs.
“We keep hearing the word ‘unprecedented,’ and it truly is an unprecedented time,” Lartigue said. “And I just got this dream promotion — I just got promoted to consultant — and that’s the job I’ve wanted for so long, (and) it’s why I stayed at Disney and have been here seven years.”
Despite the scary nature of having your job pulled out from under you with no real timeline of when you can return, she said she was lucky because Disney is still giving its employees their benefits and doing what they can to help.
Still, Lartigue felt the need to act.
In early March — before the furlough — while perusing one of the Facebook groups she had been a part of during her time in the college program, Lartigue noticed some members were posting that their time in the college program was ending but they still had food in their refrigerators they didn’t want to waste.
Cue the idea for the Cast Member Pantry.
Initially, Lartigue didn’t expect much from her post in the group, but then the community rallied around her idea.
“The community has really made it explode,” Lartigue said. “I had people reaching out, and we’ve had one woman donate $5,000 — she wants to remain anonymous — but how incredible is that, that people are just that kind right now?”
At the moment, the pantry has taken in more than $8,000 in monetary donations and more than $2,000 worth of groceries. At least 170 families have been assisted by the pantry, Lartigue said.
After running out of room in her home, Lartigue approached My Neighborhood Storage Center at Lakeside about possibly loaning out a unit to use — paying them when she could. The owner donated the unit to the Cast Member Pantry for however long it is needed.
Volunteers began to sign up to help operate the pantry — which is run by appointment only between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. One of those volunteers, Kim Schnepf, has become a sort of right-hand woman for Lartigue.
“I kind of wanted to just stand in the gap — the gap of the unknown. We don’t know when we will actually receive unemployment, but I just wanted to help out where I could. I’m lucky enough to be financially secure, but not everyone is.”
— Emily Lartigue
An entertainment leader at Disney, Schnepf has worked a total of 10 years for the Mouse and will be among those furloughed after her maternity leave ends in the next few weeks.
“It was really surreal for me to see it all happen but know that I’m not there with my cast to provide any support right now,” Schnepf said. “Food security and making sure folks have those basic necessities is something that I’m passionate about. Especially because I had been so conflicted of not being able to be with my cast right now, it seemed like a perfect opportunity.”
Along with having her house serve as a drop-off spot for food, Schnepf has been a big help in the strategic side of the pantry — though building a master plan is difficult given the current situation, Schnepf said.
“We want to serve the immediate need and build an infrastructure that will makes this a sustainable thing moving forward,” Schnepf said. “Unfortunately where we are right now is just trying to facilitate as much product getting out to the folks in need (as possible). We’re hoping this week to recruit some volunteers.”
As donations roll in, the pantry is continuing to try and get its message out. A part of that message is directed to those cast members who need assistance but are embarrassed to ask for help, Lartigue said.
“If you are a cast member and need help, please don’t hesitate to reach out,” Lartigue said. “This is just your fellow cast really wanting to have your back at this time and help you out.”