ORLANDO, Fla. -- Valencia College students short of money and worried they cannot afford food can now shop for free at a new, on-campus food pantry designed to look like a small store and offer stigma-free shopping.
The VCentials store replaces a smaller, closet-style pantry on Valencia’s west Orange County campus. It aims to deal with a sobering statistic: In a 2021 survey, 40% of Valencia’s students reported struggling to afford the food they needed.
The new store, funded with a nearly $400,000 grant from Florida Blue, is a “dream come true,” said Valencia President Kathleen Plinske, as the college hosted the facility’s official opening Tuesday.
“One of our big ideas is anyone can learn anything under the right conditions,” Plinske said.
But students who are hungry, or worried about how to pay for groceries, aren’t in the right condition to maximize their academic success, she said.
After they leave public high schools, she added, many of Valencia’s students feel the loss of the free meals their school district provided. “In high school, I got lunch,” one student wrote on the food survey, Plinske said.
Valencia has run food pantries — stocked by donations from Valencia faculty, staff and students — on its campuses for 11 years, but money from the insurance giant’s charitable foundation allowed it to create the bigger VCentials store, and to make plans for similar facilities at the college’s east Orange and Osceola County campuses, too.
Second Harvest Food Bank is providing food to the college for VCentials, some at a reduced cost and some for free. Tuesday, the store was stocked with cereal and snacks, cans of beans and soups, packages of rice and pasta, fresh fruit and vegetables and even chicken and ground beef in a freezer case.
Hygiene products were available, too. Students can take 10 items a day and can order online and pick up their supplies the next day, if they want.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for the school,” said Andres Perez, present of Valencia’s student government association. “This is an upgrade.”
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