Laid-off Disney World employees find unity in Facebook group

Author: GABRIELLE RUSSON, The Orlando Sentinel / AP
Published: Updated:
Cars drive under a sign greeting visitors near the entrance to Walt Disney World, Thursday, July 2, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Feeling survivor’s guilt that she kept her job during the economic crisis, Disney World employee Maxine Wild wanted to make a difference.

“I needed to help. I needed to do something,” Wild said as she watched colleagues get furloughed during the pandemic. The situation worsened as Walt Disney Co. announced last week it will lay off 28,000 employees, including at least 6,700 in Central Florida.

That’s why Wild started a Facebook group for out of work Disney employees to advertise their side hustles, from the Disney chef selling pastries made at home to the Imagineer who can do interior decorating.

For some, working at Disney had been a dream job. The “Ear For Each Other” page, which isn’t affiliated with the company, has helped them connect with each other as they figure out what’s next with their lives, some said.

“It makes you realize you are not alone, sitting at home figuring out what to do,” said Jennifer Padley, a furloughed employee from Haines City whose job had been working on photo albums for couples married at Disney World.

The Facebook page has grown to more than 11,000 followers as of Monday. It has quickly become a marketplace for people to inquire if any unemployed Disney employees know how to fix a car or want odd jobs during yard work.

An author needed a voice actor to record an audiobook. Voila! There is bound to be a Disney voice actor who can handle that, Wild said, as that one business connection could pay off already.

“It’s a way to say, ’Let me help a cast member before I go to a corporate grocery store or I go to the corporate mechanics,” said Brittney Jones, a furloughed server at BoardWalk Resort’s ESPN Club who advertises her baked goods on the Facebook page.

Jones said she prayed for her phone to ring for seven months, the call to go back to work. Now, she dreads anytime it rings. She worries it’s her layoff notification as the unions and Disney negotiate over the company cuts.

“It’s definitely been very nerve-wracking,” said Jones, 32, of Orlando. “You’re anxious all the time.”

She finds distraction in the kitchen as she bakes cupcakes for the homemade do-it-yourself decorating kits and pumpkin moon pies she sells. One day, she made 30 porch deliveries alone.

Her growing side project got a boost from the Facebook page, said Jones, who is studying to be a pastry chef at Valencia College. The money helps, although Jones remembers the advice from a chef who warned her that you have to sell a lot of cupcakes to keep the lights on. Fortunately, her husband, who works in technology at Universal, is still employed as they raise their two children.

Scroll along the Facebook page, and you might see Padley offering to paint a mural for a baby’s nursery or an accent wall. She shows a picture of her own living room that’s an homage to Epcot’s Spaceship Earth as proof of her talent.

And there’s seasonal Magic Kingdom merchandise worker, Jack Keller who is selling his homemade wooden Mickey Mouse-inspired lawn chairs and other items.

Since he was furloughed from his job, he spends six to eight hours a day in his garage crafting them. He has produced 40 orders so far during the pandemic, which helped the 68-year-old retiree kept busy during the months without his old job.

The week she found out she was losing her job, Kelly-Anne Salazar baked 144 cookies to sell for her growing side business, Pinch of Purpose Vegan Baking.

In happier times, Salazar, 32, was part of the Disney team who handled the logistics and costumes for entertainers at the Disney Marathon and other special events.

She hasn’t gone back to work since March and doesn’t expect to return since her job is axed effective Dec. 4. She got the news Friday.

Through it all, Salazar baked.

“I don’t know what I would have done not without baking,” said Salazar, a Mexican-Salvadoran who grew up celebrating food with her family.

The Windermere resident takes orders three days a week and then spends her weekends, dropping off her special fuchsia-colored brownie-style cookies — the special ingredient is beets — and other flavors she invented.

One customer stood out. It was a Disney employee who wanted to buy cookies to cheer up her boss who was distraught after laying off her staff on Zoom meetings.

Salazar included a Mary Poppins quote with the order: “Keep your head up, and your feet beneath you.”

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