Food Pantry 1

Grab-and-go snacks and other food items line the walls of Pirates' Cove at OCC. Pirates' Cove, in addition to food, provides various hygiene products, toiletries and baby products to students who need them.

When 24-year-old Orange Coast College computer information systems major and football player Justin Hunter saw final exams on the horizon, he had to make a decision.

Hunter knew he had to quit his part time job to make enough time to study for finals. Desperation hit as he thought of the Long Beach home that he shares with four family members, none of whom are working.

A jobless end to the spring semester also meant a hungry one for the OCC wide receiver.

The trifecta — being a full-time student and athlete, while working part time — is standard for student athletes at the community college level.

The largest-to-date study on the prevalence of housing and food insecurity among community college students by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab in 2017, called Hungry and Homeless in College, found that more than half of community college students in the western United States are often not sure where their next meal will come from, or whether they have a secure place to sleep at night.

Hunter is one of the statistics. He said it can become difficult when he doesn’t have a steady source of income, especially as a student athlete who isn’t allowed to receive help from the college.

Due to a California Community College Athletic Association bylaw, potentially hungry or homeless California community college student athletes are restricted from receiving any help from coaches and athletic supervisors under any circumstance.

All student athletes are required to abide to restrictions under the CCCAA constitution bylaw 2.11, which states that any subsidy, inducement, or special privilege is not authorized. The CCCAA defines subsidizing as, “providing any manner of service or financial assistance to prospects or student-athletes that is not available to all other students.”

The bylaw prohibits coaches from offering their players any additional support with tuition, meals, housing, books, supplies and transportation, in a deliberate attempt to level the playing field.

However, contrary to the bylaw, if any student, including a student athlete, approaches an instructor in any classroom, the instructor is allowed to attend to any of the student’s needs without penalty, Orange Coast College Dean of Student Success and Support Services Steve Tamanaha said.

“This is where I kind of think it is unfair. If I was an instructor and you were a student in my English class, I could give you money to stay inside,” Tamanaha said. “But if I was a coach and you were an athlete on my team, I could not give you any money.”

There are some resources for hungry student athletes on campus, but before they can take advantage of the resources they need to be aware of them.

The Pirates' Cove food pantry at OCC offers football player Hunter and those in his situation a temporary reprieve, but lacks the abundant resources necessary to provide sustained assistance that caters to the strict regimen of a student-athlete.

“When I stop working, that means no food on the table for me and my family,” Hunter said. “Pirates' Cove is right there, the door is always open. I can take a duffle bag and fill it with food for my family.”

There are no statistics for what percentage of the food insecure are student-athletes, but coaches are quick to point their athletes to the Pirates’ Cove pantry.

Twenty-year-old liberal arts major and defensive end for OCC’s football team Jamie Jones has been visiting the food pantry periodically for two months.

“The food pantry is amazing. It has good tangibles. If you’re hungry you can go in and get a meal or a snack. They have a lot of healthy stuff. If you need something to get you through the day, they got you,” Jones said.

Although Pirates' Cove now has five partners after its recent expansion, coaches and student athletes at OCC have yet to see the same progression in the CCCAA’s hierarchy.

Before the 2016-17 season, the OCC Athletics department was hit with hefty sanctions by the CCCAA, condemning the multiple violations of Bylaw 2.11, among other penalties.

According to the Orange County Register, an investigation by the Coast Community College District, which oversees OCC, found that two assistant football coaches provided illegal benefits and made improper contact with out-of-state recruits. 

It was reported that an assistant coach took money from out-of-state “students/parents” and “forwarded it” to an apartment complex. Coaches had also paid a housing deposit, picked up and fed players, as well as helped players buy furniture, the article stated.

The CCCAA, regardless of its restrictions, agrees that the increasing number of hungry and homeless athletes is a pressing issue across its campuses.

According to Director of Athletics at OCC Jason Kehler, a health and wellness sub-committee in the CCCAA Board of Directors is currently developing some new language that could potentially bring policy changes that mirror the sophisticated regulations of the NCAA for hungry students as soon as June 30.

“Anything that we can do to help any of our student athletes, regardless of what they’re going through, is why we are here,” Kehler said. “We have so many opportunities to positively impact our student athletes.”

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