Valencia College Pounces To Provide Food, VC Puma Relief Fund After Hurricane Ian

Jeremy Gottschalk, Editor In Chief

Editor’s Note (updated): Commentary from Downtown Campus’ Provost Office was included as a summary of food services. 



On September 28, Category 4 Hurricane Ian with winds of 155 miles per hour crossed over peninsular Florida, leaving devastation, death and disaster in its wake. To date, over 137 deaths have been blamed on the storm with 101 deaths in Florida. With forecasted storm surges at over 18 feet at landfall in Lee County, flooding and high winds wiped out entire communities such as those on Sanibel Island and Fort Myers.

Central Florida was hit hard. Hurricane Ian is a 200-year event in the amount of rainfall dropped over the course of its near stagnant crawl across the state. Waters flooded to knee and waist height for many communities in four surrounding Central Florida counties. Cars, buildings and furniture flooded as flood waters collected in parking lots, neighborhoods and nearby rivers. Millions were left without power. Valencia College students have been heavily impacted by this catastrophic storm.

This week, Valencia College introduced student services to help with recovery and relief efforts.


Hurricane Ian is a 200-year rainfall event which left a 20-30 mile wide impact area of over 10 inches of rainfall in Central Florida with nowhere to go. Flooding and high winds has led to millions in damages with estimates of 375,000 insurance claims filed. (NOAA/NWS)



Carol Traynor, Valencia College’s Senior Director of Public Relations, says “Senior leadership at the college acted quickly. Some of the students lost power, their groceries went bad. Many were suddenly choosing between rent and food.” On September 30, then later on October 2 and 4, a survey requesting emergency needs was emailed out to Valencia College students:

“If you have been severely impacted by Hurricane Ian and are facing significant challenges continuing your coursework, please contact us by completing this form. We will get back to you as soon as possible to discuss options and ways in which we can best support you.”

 Immediately, senior leadership including College President Dr. Kathleen Plinske, school administrators, and faculty leaders began delivering groceries and providing support on an individual basis. Over the September 30 weekend, fifty families over four counties were able to have grocery delivery in response to requests made through the initial survey.

In total, 711 students responded with requests ranging from financial hardship, grocery and food insecurity, housing, job loss, electricity, furniture and vehicle damages, childcare, family support, academic support and various other miscellaneous ways Hurricane Ian has impacted students.


On Tuesday, Oct. 4, Carol Traynor says there was a 12-hour planning period before implementation of a multi-day, free food service for students on all Valencia College campuses. An email was sent midday on Tuesday encouraging students to visit any campus cafeterias during set hours for free food up to ten dollars. Over the three-day period, 3,000 students would receive free food through partnerships with food services contractor Aladdin, an Elior Company, and Valencia College Student Development.

It’s awesome. We thought it was a nice thing to do. One of our friends lost their whole apartment and everything in it. We can all share a hot meal together

— Kellie Fumero, 38, Nursing


A student waits in the cafeteria line for cafeteria menu items provided for free from October 4 through October 6. (Aya Anzouk )

Unfortunately, East Campus food service workers with contractor Aladdin were unaware prior to coming to work of the large number of students that would be served on Tuesday, opting to close early amid growing lines and dwindling supply. Some students expressed their disappointment.


Tara Rickey, 18, Early Childhood Education, was queued in line and holding a five-dollar bill when services were suspended early on Tuesday. Rickey says, “It’s great that they are doing that. I just wish they had been more prepared. I would have really paid for a pizza. I was very angry. That was my lunch. I’ll probably go somewhere else.”


“My place got flooded, and I was excited to see the email. I didn’t mind taking an L (loss) today (in driving over),” online student Diamond Pearce, 30, Business Admin, was turned away due to the early closure on Valencia College’s East Campus. Pearce was later directed to Pooky’s Pantry and provided with resources to community programs.

Students reported no other early closures on any campus with services remaining open throughout the other two days.

“It’s awesome. We thought it was a nice thing to do. One of our friends lost their whole apartment and everything in it. We can all share a hot meal together,” says Kellie Fumero, 38, Nursing. 

Student Development leaders observed how the hardest obstacle was not knowing how much of a need these services would meet. According to Valencia College, this is the first time anything like this has been attempted for the school. Traynor says, “We also brought in pizzas. Cafeterias had twice the volume as their busiest day this academic year over the course of this week.”



Student Development student leaders set up tables outside campus buildings. Smaller campuses such as Valencia College’s Winter Park saw attendance soar with their Hispanic Heritage event timed alongside the free food program. Over 90 students participated in sampling the various Hispanic food and drinks provided.


Added 10/7/2022 4:35 p.m.:

At Valencia College’s Downtown Campus, the Provost’s Office and Student Services ordered pizza for the students on Tuesday. Senior Executive Assistant April Montallana, Valencia College Downtown/WPK Provost Office, explains, “We do not have Aladdin food services… On Wednesday and Thursday, our friends from Subway on the first floor of the UnionWest building on Downtown Campus served boxed lunches that included a 6-inch sub, choice of cookie, choice of chips, and a drink. Our students, faculty, and staff were very appreciative and the general attitude and mood was joyful and full of gratitude.”

Downtown Campus students pick up the Subway packaged meals on the 1st floor of UnionWest. (Provost’s Office Downtown/Student Services)
Downtown Campus students pick up the Subway packaged meals on the 1st floor of UnionWest. (Provost’s Office Downtown/Student Services)




As response to the needs of students following Hurricane Ian, Valencia College Foundation has created the VC Puma Emergency Relief Fund. The grant involved an email being sent out with request for donations to Valencia alumni, employees, and donors. The Puma Emergency Relief Fund will be used to support students who filled out the initial survey form or who have reached out to a faculty member or counselor for help following the hurricane.

Even if you haven’t applied, Valencia College encourages any students still experiencing significant hardships as a result of Hurricane Ian to reach out to a counselor for assistance. The College is  continuing in helping to connect students with community resources through FEMA Disaster Relief, Heart of Florida United Way, and Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.


Thank you Valencia College for the leaps and bounds you’ve taken in securing these student services, aid and relief in this unprecedented time.