OCC students struggle to ask for help during pandemic

An Orange Coast College students picks up food in 2018 from the on-campus food pantry, Pirate's Cove. 

Fewer Orange Coast College students are using school resources, despite the COVID-19 pandemic contributing to financial challenges and mental health issues. OCC Cares, a program that provides resources to meet the basic needs of OCC students, has seen a decline in student interest during the pandemic. These unprecedented times have not been without barriers, so why are fewer students utilizing school resources when they may need them more than ever?  

OCC’s Student Equity office has worked throughout the pandemic to meet students’ food security needs by offering a weekly drive-thru Pirates’ Cove food distribution, the Cal-Fresh food stamp program, and Share Our Shelves, a grocery distribution service.  

If a student qualifies for CalFresh, they can receive a $194 monthly stipend per household member to spend on food. The program’s current mission is to get the word out to students who may benefit. 

Additionally, OCC Cares emphasizes that students who struggle in meeting one area of basic needs likely need help in another area, such as housing, employment and other financial issues. “I try my best to make sure that students feel heard, supported and validated in their experiences,” OCC professional housing and homelessness expert Lupe Tinoco Oliveros said. 

During the pandemic, the program has been avidly trying to gather supplies for remote learning, such as laptops, wifi, chargers and headphones as well. As a student, these essentials may be critical to academic success. 

Tuan Vo, the Pirates’ Cove coordinator, attributes the lack of student participation in OCC Cares to different factors. To start, remote learning makes it difficult for students to conveniently access these resources. Many students don’t make the trip to campus anymore, so they can’t stop by in between classes. Some students likely face transportation issues that hinder their access to campus. Another main issue is that many students are afraid to reach out. 

“It’s hard to ask for help,” Vo said. 

The OCC Cares team hopes to destigmatize the use of resources to meet basic needs. While the program can directly assist or refer students to services, it is hard to discover who these students are when many are perhaps too ashamed to speak up.  

Furthermore, some students on campus may be unaware of these resources or may not realize they are eligible. Vo makes it his personal mission to “restore dignity” in each student who faces any sort of insecurity in their life. By reaching out, students are not only met with fundamental assistance, but also with the support they need to continue their education. 

“One of my goals while working with Student Equity and OCC Cares is to identify and address barriers that may hinder students' academic and personal success with care and sensitivity,” Tinoco Oliveros said.  

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