Valencia College, Salvation Army Partner To Feed Thousands Over Holidays

Denise Diaz, Copy Editor

Valencia College logo with puma used in wrapping individual cookies. (Valencia Voice)

‘Tis the season to be giving and the Valencia College’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality program have stepped up to the dinner plate, partnering up with the Salvation Army to “impact the lives of thousands in Central Florida”. This year, over sixty Valencia volunteers have joined forces for “The Eric and Diane Holm Thanksgiving Meal” with the goal to feed up to 7,500 community members on Thanksgiving Day, over 20,000 total through the holiday season. 

Preparations have already started on Monday, November 21. Valencia students will be working throughout Thanksgiving week to execute this event. This is Valencia Downtown Campus’ first ever attempt to cater to the community in this capacity.

“A lot of students who are volunteering want to be part of the fun and part of the experience… It’s a Valencia family event.” 

— Chef Alex Erdmann, Dean, School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality

Valencia College Dean, School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality at Downtown Campus, Chef Alex Erdmann and Valencia volunteers will be working around the clock, breaking the workload into seven shifts starting as early as midnight on Thanksgiving Day. “It’s technical, but it’s going to work”, Chef Erdmann confidently says. Each shift will prepare 2,000 portions. Three floors in the Downtown campus, including all six kitchen labs, will be in full operation to make it all happen. 

Volunteers will be cooking twenty-four hours prior to distribution. The food that will be prepared consists of up to 2,000 lbs. of turkey, 2,000 lbs. of potatoes, and will include all the traditional Thanksgiving fixings such as cranberry sauce, gravy, and green beans.

The first truck will arrive at the Downtown Campus at 9:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day to pick up a load of hot, fresh meals. These meals will be delivered to the Salvation Army and distributed at 440 W. Colonial Dr

The Salvation Army Captain Ken Chapman, Area Commander of Orange and Osceola Counties and fourth-generation Salvationist, said “both entities have hearts for serving others, for bringing hope to those in our communities who have lost their hope and we think the best way to do that is to offer a meal and sit down and talk, listen to them and make them feel that somebody in this community cares. They are not alone.” Chapman encourages everyone and anyone to come down. “All they have to do is show up and we will give them a hug and a smile, fill their bellies with delicious food cooked by the Culinary Arts College.”

Culinary Arts students Marissa Rossi, 21, and Victoria Pham, 22, help wrap over 8,000 wheat sugar cookies for the Salvation Army’s “The Eric and Diane Holm Thanksgiving Meal” event on November 23.

Chef Erdmann, his students, and the Salvation Army have a plan to feed 2,000 people in the community every forty-five minutes on Thanksgiving Day. “There’s a lot of people out there who don’t have anyone to celebrate with. This is something where people can come together”, shares Erdmann. 

By 2 p.m., the food drive is hoping to feed up to 7,500 people and promote the importance of love, companionship, and community this Holiday season. Chef Erdmann expressed, “The students will actually see an outcome in the community and for themselves.” It’s a great opportunity for everyone. “For me, it’s a win-win situation.” Chef Erdmann continued.

Chef Erdmann has a history working with the Salvation Army to give back to the community, including cooking for the disaster zones from this hurricane season. In return, the Salvation Army reached out to Erdmann to provide food and additional resources to the Downtown Campus students during Hurricane Nicole. 

The Salvation Army has been serving the community for 102 years, according to Capt Chapman. Chapman believes, “Now more than ever, we need this message.”

Over one thousand people have signed up to volunteer. “Those 1,000 hands that will be there are hands of hope”, said Capt. Chapman.


Culinary Arts student and volunteer Bruce Dorris, 43, believes this event is going to change lives, just as the Salvation Army and Valencia College has done for him. Dorris shares that it is vital to give back. “There’s a lot of hurting, needy people, not just in Orlando, but around the world. I believe that when we give back we get back in return.” Dorris recently completed the Salvations Army’s rehabilitation program and enrolled at Valencia College this fall term. 

Chef Professor Mackie Hefka, Culinary Management, counts food bags to be shipped out for “The Eric and Diane Holm Thanksgiving Meal” event with Salvation Army.

“A lot of students who are volunteering want to be part of the fun and part of the experience”, said Erdmann. “It’s a Valencia family event.” 

According to Chef Erdmann, it’s time to go back; “Go back to sharing. Go back to inviting other cultures. Go back to inviting the community. This is what our students learn.” For Capt. Chapman, this event is what will bring out the best in others. “For us to be able to reach our hands out and help others, that’s what makes us a better people altogether.” 

As Thanksgiving Day gets closer, the Culinary Arts and Hospitality team and the Salvation Army are eager and ready to get this act of generosity accomplished. Chef Erdmann has hopes of future events, like this Thanksgiving, where he and his students can continue to give back. “I think it’s going to be amazing and a great start to do something like this in the future, again and again.”