Students, parents rally after coach fired for fruit collection

Published: Apr. 14, 2016 at 1:00 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 24, 2016 at 2:50 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A respected middle school coach and Marine Corps veteran is out of a job after he says he was fired for collecting unwanted fruit and giving it to student-athletes.

Arnold Villalobos told NBC Los Angeles that he meant no harm by gathering the fruit that would have ended up in the trashcans of Center Middle School in the Southern California community of Azusa.

"They were just going to throw it away, so I thought I would do something good," Villalobos said to NBC4, remarking that an open box in the lunch area served as a collection center for fruit students planned to throw away.

He would later distribute the fruit around campus for students-athletes who may be at practice after school ends, adding that he never took any home.

Villalobos said he didn't know what he was doing violated regulations on re-serving unsealed food, such as fruit.

Three years after he started collecting, school food service officials told Villalobos to stop, which he did. Despite his collection efforts ending, Villalobos said students would still give him fruit, which he ended up throwing away.

The situation culminated in his termination last Friday, telling NBC Los Angeles he was fired because "taking" fruit from students was not allowed.

Now, students and parents alike are organizing efforts to have the coach reinstated.

"I think they're making a really big mistake if they don't bring him back," Amy Olivares told NBC4 as other parents praised Villalobos for his commitment to his students and mentoring them in and out of the classroom.

School officials declined to comment when asked by NBC4, noting it's a personnel matter. The California School Employees Association said it plans to look into the case.

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