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Davis

Davis, California

Monday, May 20, 2024

Community organization combats food insecurity while fostering social interaction

The Davis Night Market shares food with the community every weekday in Central Park 

 

Founded in May 2019, the Davis Night Market is an operation powered by the community, for the community. Volunteers gather at C and Fourth Streets in downtown Davis from 9-11 p.m. each weeknight to share food with the public. 

Volunteer Emmet Stephenson, a fourth-year global disease biology major, said the organization focuses on helping those who need food through a mutual-aid process.

“One big thing about Night Market is we are trying to destigmatize getting food,” Stephenson said. “So we aren’t a food bank. We aren’t trying to hand food out. We are all sharing it as a community, which is very akin to the principle of mutual aid, where we are all helping each other.”

Each evening, volunteers pick up food from local businesses that are willing to help and have a surplus of food. 

 “One of our big goals is to reduce food waste,” Stephenson said. “So everything we serve at Night Market is stuff that is going to go to the trash otherwise. It’s perfectly good food, so that’s why we go by restaurants as they are closing at the end of the day and we pick up the stuff that they don’t sell.”

According to the Night Market website, some partners include Sophia’s Thai Kitchen, Panera Bread, Village Bakery and Noah’s Bagels. It has also partnered with the ASUCD Pantry on campus and occasionally receives food from residence halls’ dining commons. 

“I describe the Night Market as the vulture of the food system — I say that in the best way possible,” volunteer Max Morgan said. “If someone needs a way to move food, they will let us know and the way we move food is creating this warm, welcoming environment that makes people want to come.”

Donated food is sometimes dropped off, but most often, volunteers pick up items by bike or car, bring them back to an area of tables in Central Park and lay them out for anyone to take, according to third-year biotechnology major and volunteer Ian Matthews.

“I think there’s a misconception,” Matthews said. “When I say we hand out free food, people are like, ‘Oh, you’re giving it purely to homeless people.’ Nope. It’s [for] the unhoused, but it’s also definitely [for] students or people in the area.”

At the end of each evening, leftovers are placed in Freedges across town, which provides people even more opportunities to access free food and the Night Market an additional way to reduce food waste.

Another key theme of the market is social interaction. The market was founded on the principles of helping people by providing them with the opportunity to receive food without judgment and engage in real human connection. 

“The basic idea was, as much as food insecurity is a food problem, one of the more fundamental problems is the stigma around food insecurity,” Morgan said. “So anything we can do to try to create this warm, welcoming atmosphere will help people who are maybe too afraid to go to other places to come here.”

Stephenson said that after the COVID-19 pandemic, interaction with the community is more important than ever, and the desire for that connection is what led him to join the Market.

“I wanted to get involved in that community because we had just been only meeting people through computers for two years,” Stephenson said, “And I was like, ‘I want to get involved in the community — plug into [the] Davis-specific community.’” 

Matthews said that in his time with the Market, he’s picked up and dispersed food but also just shared in conversation with attendees.

“You just kind of end up talking to community members who need to talk to someone,” Matthews said. “You become the community’s listening ear.”

The ideals of friendliness and community-building extend to the organizational structure of the Market as well, as it is self-described as “non-hierarchical.” Every volunteer helps in different ways, but there are no distinct roles. Moreover, volunteers are also invited to share in food, according to Morgan. 

“A lot of the people who volunteer here are also food insecure, but the beauty of our system is they don’t have to ‘out’ themselves as food insecure,” Morgan said. “Everyone is encouraged to take food for that reason, too.”

The Market has grown from one day a week to five days a week and is still in need of volunteers. 

“As a relatively non-hierarchical organization, you have to be pretty autonomous to be successful,” Morgan said. “So we aren’t going to go completely after you to help out, but anyone who comes, we love that.” 

As a long-time volunteer, Morgan has witnessed the Market change, especially after the community was affected by recent violent crimes

“The Compassion Guy, David, came here almost every night,” Morgan said. “So there are several volunteers who are still spooked out to even do distribution again.”

However, Stephenson said that the Night Market has become a place for community members to lean on each other in difficult times.

“We’ve been through a lot here in Davis recently, and the truth of the matter is a lot of our community members have been going through a lot before we noticed,” Stephenson said. “There’s been more attention drawn to the unhoused community because of the serial killings, but they have always had to deal with police raids and food insecurity. While we are not a food bank, we recognize there are a lot of community members who are not seen, and we want to see them and bring them into [the] community.”

For more information about how to get involved in Night Market, you can join its Discord server or follow the group on Facebook or Instagram @davisnightmarket

By MIA BALTIERRA — features@theaggie.org