Despite Orange County being one of the wealthiest in the country, many students at Orange Coast College — especially student-athletes — regularly struggle with food insecurity.
With the astronomical costs of living in Orange County after paying rent and tuition, food tends to be the first expense that gets sacrificed, said Allison Cuff, a student resource specialist at the Pirates’ Cove food pantry on campus.
But an undying love for their sport and a desire to play at the next collegiate level propels students like Kyré Adams, a 21-year-old business communications major and a defensive back on OCC’s football team.
“I didn’t care if I was hungry. I didn’t care if I had no house back home. I just wanted to [put on] the equipment and be on the field,” Adams said.
Bubba Gonzalez, the head football coach said he believes that with overpacked schedules student-athletes can often neglect their nutritional needs.
“So, a lot of times when they’re going from school to practice to work they forget to eat or don’t have the ability to eat for whatever reason. That can be damaging to their bodies, especially since they’re putting so much work and effort into training and getting their bodies ready to play this sport,” Gonzalez said.
According to Athletic Director Jason Kehler, community college athletes face unique challenges at this level because of the lack of scholarships, meal plans and housing options that many athletes at four year universities receive.
Additionally, the California Community Colleges Athletic Association places strict guidelines on what coaches and staff can do to help struggling athletes.
“CCCAA has put in place bylaws and rules through our constitution that prevent us from providing kids with anything that might be considered an extra inducement or just a perk and giving food can be seen as that. But when the rule was created, I don’t think that they created it with the mindset that a coach was giving a hungry kid a candy bar,” Gonzalez said.
The effects of hunger on student-athletes can range from diminished academic performance to injuries on the field to hospitalization for malnutrition.
“In classes, I would be falling asleep in .5 seconds,” Adams said.
As a result, Adams was unable to pass his classes during his freshman year.
Gonzalez said he has seen players sustain injuries due to a lack of focus or muscle weakness because of hunger. Several years ago, he had a player who was hospitalized for malnutrition.
With an ever increasing need for resources for struggling students, the Student Equity center received the funds to open the Pirates’ Cove as part of the Hunger-Free Campus fund.
The Pirates’ Cove is located in Journalism room 108 and with an OCC ID, students can stop by daily for grab and go snacks and can fill a grocery basket twice a week at no cost.
Cuff said that students can take additional food based on family necessity or needing to feed family members.
“They need more protein. They need more calories because they’re burning off more,” she said addressing the nutritional challenges of being a student-athlete.
The Student Equity center and the Athletic department can also connect students with additional resources both on and off campus.
Maricela Sandoval, the manager of the Student Equity center described the needs of students struggling with food insecurity as being ongoing and unmet and a major cause of students leaving school.
“Because we know that one small thing could then turn into a much bigger issue that could unfortunately lead to us having the student no longer be here,” she said.
Ashley Rippeon, an athletic compliance specialist echoed Sandoval’s belief that more needs to be done to help students that are struggling.
“We’re not doing enough. I had someone tell me that they haven’t had power all semester. Off and on all semester. How are they expected to do their homework or focus on anything if they don’t have power when they get home?” Rippeon said.
New legislation from the CCCAA was recently introduced to help address the issue of food insecurity but it is vaguely worded, and it is unclear how it will be implemented according to Kehler.
Kehler also urged student-athletes to ask for help if they are struggling.
“We’ve been talking a lot about vulnerability with our athletes and creating a safe space for them to know that they can come and talk to us about their problems at any given time. It’s definitely been an area that we’ve focused on as an athletic department to create that culture that at any given time an athlete can come up to anybody in the department and say, ‘Hey, I’m struggling with this. Can you help me?’” said Kehler.
Kehler said his primary goal as athletic director is to help student-athletes achieve their potential both as athletes and in general.
“The wins are great, but seeing the students that achieve across the board and are better leaving here than they were when they got in. I mean that’s what really matters,” Kehler added.