ORLANDO, Fla. – A walk around the park is taking on added importance for a small group of UCF students.
Lake Eola Park slowly comes to life on a humid Saturday morning. Walkers make their way around the lake, the benches begin to fill and a yoga class has just finished up their session.
Nearby, under the shade of a row of oaks trees, Victoria Orindas reaches into the trunk of a silver Chevrolet Camaro and pulls out a hand full of paper bags.
“I’ll give you another care package,” she says, with her hands full. “And we have some water, too.”
The UCF student, majoring in biomedical sciences, hands her friends bag after bag filled with snacks, hand sanitizer and cloth face masks. Moments later, they set off to hand them out along the walkway.
The park has been a gathering place for the region’s homeless population. It has created a symbiotic relationship between the needy and those who wish to help.
Orindas is part of that second group. She’s used to volunteering, serving for several downtown nonprofits over the years. But when many stopped operating during the COVID-19 shutdown, she decided to fill that void herself.
“All these nonprofits pretty much stopped, they didn’t have volunteers,” Orindas said. “We all got together and we were thinking what do they really need and what, as students, can we afford to do.”
Now, every other Saturday, a small group of students bring what they can to help the homeless who gather in the park.
“We just decided to start something small,” Orindas said. “It’s not like we feel we’re heroes. You help your neighbor.”
George Mattos makes sure he makes it to the park every weekend. Mattos says he had a steady job but became the victim of violent crime. He spent four months in the hospital recovering and lost everything as a result.
“We’d be starving, starving if it wasn’t for them,” Mattos said when asked about the groups that hand out food. “People do appreciate it.”
Naim Shaqqou, a sophmore also majoring in biomedical sciences, says as students they’re limited in what they can provide but the experience is rewarding.
“Even though I’m dripping in sweat right now, I’m still happy that I’m here,” he smiles.
And that’s the reaction from all the students as they walk the pathway handing out the care packages and having short conversation with whomever they encounter.
Orindas says she hopes to inspire other students to take initiative when they see a need.
“No matter what, the smallest action could make a difference," Orindas said. "We just have to give back as much as we can. Don’t think you have to be a hero. A little bit is enough.”