On Saturday, 10 UCF students gathered in the chilly courtyard of the First Presbyterian Church of Orlando to gift 150 bags of candy, treats and toiletries for the homeless.
#ValentinesForTheHomeless was started last year by Kendall Josey, a sophomore hospitality management major, when she said she felt the pang of single blues during Valentine's Day, but decided to spend some time giving to those who have no one at all.
"I just felt like I wish I could do more for them," Josey said. "But I also felt glad that I could put a smile on someone's face today and maybe make a little bit of a difference in someone's day, in someone's Valentine's Day."
Volunteers circled around the perimeter of Downtown Orlando's Lake Eola Park and trailed down surrounding streets, handing out pink, heart-adorned goodie bags, toiletries and chocolate chip cookies to all who crossed their path. A woman in a wheelchair who was nestled in the shade of a bus stop was welcomed with the volunteers' kindness, as well as a white-haired, small-framed man with taped glasses who was sitting against a lamppost with nothing but his golden retriever and a novel.
Josey used Facebook to recruit volunteers and set up a donation box in the Multicultural Student Center. Together, her friends and volunteers spent almost $200 on the bags.
"When you really need something and are trying to do something good, things always come into play," Josey said.
A week before the event, she made about $80 in donations, along with product donations such as mini perfumes, toothbrushes and travel-sized deodorants.
Cindy Ecclesiastre, a senior biomedical sciences major, spent three hours the night before the event baking 10 dozen cookies to hand out.
"Valentine's Day isn't really for a significant other, it's for people in general," Ecclesiastre said. "It's really easy for someone to feel, you know, not loved; to feel useless. Giving back on Valentine's Day shows you really aren't useless, and that someone can appreciate you."
But Ecclesiastre said the most sad, though rewarding, aspect of the experience was listening to the homeless' stories and the heartfelt appreciation expressed by them. She recalled a woman who said she had cancer, and slept in the streets with her brother and sister-in-law.
"As society, as young adults on Valentine's Day, we want 'love' from someone; but what really matters is the love that we get from those who don't have much," Ecclesiastre said. "Because they appreciate your presence, appreciate what you do."
Ecclesiastre said she learned from volunteering at the event, and hopes to continue helping others after she graduates.
"The whole experience just taught me that little things mean so much for people," Ecclesiastre said. "Don't take the small things for granted. You go out and you sit down with these people; they really show you how far from useless you are."
Nada Hassanein is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @nhassanein_ or email her at NadaH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.