OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – Osceola County leaders, along with the cities of Kissimmee and St. Cloud, opened the doors to a new Hurricane Maria center to help hundreds of evacuees who are seeking refuge in Central Florida after the storm.
"In this moment, it's like a little bit of light in the middle of darkness right now," evacuee Daisy Diaz Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez tells News 6 she found her light and hope inside a conference room at Osceola Heritage Park. She came to Osceola County after her home in Puerto Rico was destroyed last month during Maria.
"It's been amazing, the help we have received from everyone. You come here and everyone wants to help. Everyone wants to reach out," she said.
Many people from the devastated island, along with residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands, are seeking refuge in Osceola County.
This prompted county officials to open the Hurricane Maria Reception Center. The center welcomed its first families on Friday.
"We are specifically here trying to once again provide services and connection points to those folks that are looking to relocate to Osceola County and Central Florida as well," Osceola County Commission Chairman Brandon Arrington said.
Arrington tells News 6 the center is modeled after the disaster relief center at Orlando International Airport.
The center provides evacuees help with the transition, including medical services, job placement, housing and food stamps.
The school district is also helping families enroll students. As of Friday afternoon, 90 students enrolled in Osceola County schools from Puerto Rico after the hurricane.
"We're already looking at what schools will probably see the biggest impact and we're working with staff of those schools to make sure they are ready," Osceola County Schools Chairman Kelvin Soto said.
One of the schools receiving students affected by the storm is Boggy Creek Elementary. The principal tells News 6 five students are already attending classes and came with almost nothing.
"Our very first family actually had been days without food. Mom had two cans of food that she was sharing between her four children and herself," Principal Rhonda McMan said.
County leaders expect hundreds of people will walk through the doors of the center seeking support, and Arrington adds the county needs help from the state and federal governments.
"We're really looking for some state involvement and federal involvement, not only from a monetary standpoint, but from a leadership standpoint because this isn't a state of Florida issue, this is an American issue," Arrington said.
Evacuees said they are thankful for all the help and support during their time of need.
"It's overwhelming, it's happiness. It's kinda peace in the heart," Rodriguez said.
The Hurricane Maria Reception Center is located at 1921 Kissimmee Valley Lane, Kissimmee. It is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. County leaders say it will stay open for as long as it is needed.
The county also set up an assistance line at 407-742-8598.