This video is best viewed in Chrome, Firefox or Safari.
Sara Guevara-Plunkett knows what it’s like to rely on handouts during tough times.
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the UC Davis pre-med student looked forward to Tuesdays, the day when several families in Davis and Woodland place tables on the sidewalks and stock them with groceries, clothes and toiletries.
Guevara-Plunkett could take as much as she wanted. Free. No questions asked.
A year into the pandemic, and with her situation slightly improved, Guevara-Plunkett turned the tables, so to speak. She and two friends from UC Davis, who are also committed to helping the underserved, started their own weekly giveaway table.
Guevara-Plunkett, Elyse Kristine Ong and Ana Jazmin Flores Pimentel have set up shop in Knights Landing, a high-need, low resource, heavily Latino migrant community in rural Yolo County.
On a recent Sunday, the clients included an older man maneuvering a walker, mothers with tugging toddlers and a man who rode up on a bicycle with a Bible in hand.
“What this is,” Guevara-Plunkett explained to a newcomer, “is a take-what-you-need table. We’re here every Sunday from 12 to 2, grab anything for yourself, your neighbors, your friends. There’s no limit, so take what you need.”
The resource table – actually, up to six tables now -- is stocked with fresh fruit and vegetables, dry food, canned goods, feminine hygiene products, pet food and other supplies for animals, diapers, hand-knit scarves and other items.
Guevara-Plunkett, Ong and Flores Pimentel constantly scour Facebook Marketplace ads for free goods. Then they pinball across the Sacramento region and even into the Bay Area to pick them up.
“We happily travel for the needed items,” said Guevara-Plunkett, who aspires to be a physician in infectious diseases and preventive medicine, and who works as a research assistant at a UC Davis Health dermatology lab in Sacramento.
“The people that come to the resource table each week are like our family. We love them. So all the driving and time is worth it, especially when many of the items we provide are hard for residents to get in Knights Landing.”
The unincorporated farming town of about 1,000 people is a 30-minute drive from Davis, and a world away. The town has no stoplights. Its convenience stores sell bait and tackle, and only a limited amount of produce. Many of the residents work long hours as seasonal, migrant agricultural workers.
Public transportation is scarce in Knights Landing, which prevents some residents from traveling to the nearest city, Woodland, for fresh produce. “Diabetes and hypertension are common medical conditions for Knights Landing residents,” said Flores Pimentel, “and the limited bus hours make it harder for them to access healthy food and thus improve their health.”
Access to health care also is inadequate in the community, which is why UC Davis students in 2011 established a branch of their Sacramento-based free clinic, Clinica Tepati, in Knights Landing. The satellite location is called Knights Landing One Health Center and also includes an animal health clinic run by UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine students.
The table’s humble beginnings
Guevara-Plunkett, Ong and Flores Pimentel each experienced some degree of financial hardships growing up, and they’re passionate about helping people in need.
As the pandemic dragged on, Guevara-Plunkett and Ong, who were housemates at the time, realized that if there’s a need for a Tuesday Table in Davis, then surely there must be a greater need for one in Knights Landing.
“I’ve been wanting to do this for a while,” said Ong, a UC Davis graduate. “But if it wasn’t for my housemate, I would have never thought we could have gotten this going.”
Last Thanksgiving morning, Guevara-Plunkett and Ong crammed donations into Ong’s compact car and drove to Knights Landing. They extended their folding table outside the small community center in town. They displayed a few cans of food and feminine hygiene products.
They wondered if anybody had read their fliers or seen their Facebook posts.
“We were ecstatic to get one person, let alone five!” Guevara-Plunkett recalled.
Word spread fast. Three weeks later, when Guevara-Plunkett and Ong drove up to unload their table, there were 15 people waiting in line for them.
Their operation was growing, and they needed help.
Guevara-Plunkett sought volunteers through a Slack message to nearly 90 students connected to the Knights Landing clinic where she is a board member. She received a positive response from Flores-Pimentel, a 2020 UC Davis graduate from Vallejo and future medical school applicant. Flores Pimentel was already part of a COVID-19 relief effort and was willing to do more.
That, plus the challenges in Knights Landing felt familiar to her.
“I can relate to many of the struggles that the Knights Landing patients face,” Flores Pimentel said. “I come from a similar background growing up and obtained first-hand experience of the extent to which the Latinx population is underserved. I am passionate about giving back to my community, especially my local Latinx community, and I also hope to do as much as I can to reduce any health care disparities.”
Table’s popularity grows through word of mouth
The Thursday table was moved to Sundays to serve more clients and increase the pool of volunteers.
Some weeks, more than 50 local residents show up. Most of them learn about the table through word of mouth.
Regulars like Josefina Pizano arrive early to grab whatever will be the day’s most popular item. “This helps us a lot,” said Pizano, who acquired a heavy tub of laundry soap on a recent morning. “Right now, with the economy the way it is, we don’t have work,” she said, “and what we get here helps us a lot.”
Other sought-after items include toilet paper, hand soap and sanitizer. Toothpaste and deodorant are popular. There’s also demand for rice, beans, pasta, eggs, bread, cereal, and water.
Guevara-Plunkett, Ong and Flores Pimentel have a keen sense of the community’s needs. And they’ve become experts at seeking donations, no matter how far they have to drive.
They’ve also encountered people and organizations that make regular donations.
The UC Davis Student Farm provides produce that is harvested on Fridays. Employees at Yolo County Animal Services collect money for pet food. Louise DeLateur, a local resident, donates weekly knitted garments and homemade pastries. Period, an organization that advocates for menstrual health, contributes feminine hygiene items.
In addition, Purina, the pet food company, is now providing pet toys, food and treats, thanks to a relationship it established with UC Davis veterinary students who volunteer at the One Health Center.
Still, Guevara-Plunkett, Ong and Flores Pimentel put their own money into their project – to buy things nobody donates, such as gallon-sized clear zipper bags they fill with the donated dog food.
The benefit of knowing they’re helping Knights Landing, they say, outweighs the personal cost.
Their work is being noticed by advocates for the disenfranchised.
“My hats are off to these ladies, it’s just amazing what they are doing,” said Susie Richter, a volunteer with Empower Yolo, a social service organization housed at the same community center as the resource table. “Knights Landing is kind of isolated out here and we don’t have retail or anything, so by their figuring out what’s needed – clothing, dog food – it’s really helping people.”
Improving the health of the community
While there is great need for durable items like diapers, shampoo, men’s clothes and laundry detergent, Knights Landing residents also need access to better and healthier foods.
“We’ve heard from a lot of community members that they want to start eating healthy,” Guevara-Plunkett said. “I know there’s a lot of diabetes, heart problems and other health issues in this specific community.”
On weeks when there’s leftover food from the table, the groceries are donated to Empower Yolo, a women’s shelter in Davis, and UC Davis HOPE, a campus club that caters to people experiencing homelessness in Davis.
“We make sure nothing goes to waste, and give to other communities in need,” Guevara-Plunkett said.
The three friends are passionate about improving health, but they have begun to channel that energy elsewhere. Ong recently moved to attend nursing school in Southern California, and Guevara-Plunkett will soon graduate with a degree in global disease biology and move out of state for a research opportunity.
Flores Pimentel, who lives more than 60 miles away, is now overseeing the large task alone.
She’s made a few modifications lately to make the job more manageable. The table, which used to be open for two hours, now runs for an hour, from 10 to 11 a.m.
Flores Pimentel, who’s also a Knights Landing One Health Clinic volunteer, has been thinking a lot about the table’s future.
She is in discussions with clinic leadership about incorporating the table, which could open up volunteer opportunities to dozens of students.
“I’d definitely say we are in the process of accomplishing our vision of making the table a sustainable resource for the Knights Landing community,” she said.
Anyone interested in making donations can email SETabledonations@gmail.com.
Donations also can be sent through Venmo @Resource-Table.