Valencia College Unveils New Space To Better Serve Students With Food Insecurities  

ORLANDO – Forty percent of Valencia College students reported that they were financially unable to buy adequate amounts of food, according to a survey administered by the college in 2021. Today, Valencia College officials will unveil a newly expanded pantry and holistic support center on its West Campus, thanks to a major investment from Florida Blue Foundation.

Called “VCentials,” for the essential items students will find there, the new space will better align the existing pantry to better serve student needs. The name VCentials grew from a desire to find a stigma-free approach to increasing food access among students experiencing hunger, after the college learned that the word “pantry” could be off-putting to some students. The long-term goal is for VCentials to become a one-stop location for students to access support with basic needs, such as food, community and social services, counseling, financial literacy and more.

Florida Blue Foundation announced in October that Valencia was one of 10 organizations in Florida to receive a total of $3.73 million in grants to expand support for students experiencing food insecurity. Valencia, which was awarded a $399,745 four-year grant, will use the funds for construction and equipment, support personnel, an inventory control system, and to provide education to students about the importance of nutrition and healthy eating.

“We know how acute the challenges are that many of our students face, and how those obstacles make it difficult for them to focus on learning,” said Kathleen Plinske, president of Valencia College. “This donation from Florida Blue Foundation allows us to increase our level of support for these students to address some of their needs, including having access to healthy and nutritious food.”

“We are proud to help open this first-of-its-kind center at Valencia College, and support food pantries at nine additional college campuses across Florida,” said Pat Geraghty, president and CEO of Florida Blue. “We know hunger significantly impacts a person’s health and is even more detrimental for young people. That’s why since 2020 we have invested $14.5 million in organizations addressing food security across Florida, neighborhood by neighborhood and student by student, and look forward to collaborating for lasting community impact.”

“Students of all ages are facing food security challenges like never before,” said Susan Towler, executive director of Florida Blue Foundation. “By supporting programs that make healthy food more accessible and affordable in communities across our state, the Florida Blue Foundation and our partners are meaningfully improving the health and well-being of children, families and communities.”

Students may take up to 10 items each day, ranging from fresh produce and meals to personal hygiene items, and even formula and diapers on a short-term basis. Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida provides items to stock VCentials at a significantly reduced price.

For 11 years, the college’s Student Development team has managed and operated pantries on several campuses, allowing students to help their fellow students. Food donations came primarily from Valencia students, faculty and staff. The new grant from Florida Blue will provide greater options to students. What’s more, students can select items from a new online platform for next-day pickup at their home campus. As part of the Florida Blue grant, the college also plans to bring similar holistic support centers to its East and Osceola campuses over the next three years.