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Food Bank Makes Hard Times a Little Easier

Imagine trying to support a family of eight on $2,000 a month. That’s the reality for the Mohamed family.

“My dad, he’s a janitor. He works from 5 pm to 1 am,” says 11-year-old Nadakaid Mohamed. “It’s very tiring for him because he cleans more than 800 toilets. His payment is only $2,000, and to tell you the truth, it’s not enough because half my dad’s payment is for the rent.”

The family lives at the Curran House, a low-income family housing complex in the Tenderloin. The affordable housing is integral to enabling the family to make ends meet.

In a meeting room at Curran House, Nadakaid tells her story and that of her family, helping her mother translate from Arabic into English. Her little brother, Mohamed, who will turn 6 soon, sits quietly nearby. The family has six children in all. 

In search of greater opportunities
Nadakaid’s father was born in the US, and eight years ago, the family relocated from Yemen to San Francisco.

“We wanted to live in the US because it’s easier to find a job,” she says about her family’s employment prospects.

Nadakaid’s older brother, a young adult in his 20s, stayed behind in Yemen to help his grandmother, and now red tape is preventing him from joining the rest of the family in the US. The family had anticipated that their oldest son would be another wage earner for the family in San Francisco, where costs of living are notoriously high. But life had other plans.

“We’re trying to get him here but they won’t give him a Visa. He could help us. They have no reason (not to let him come). My brother would help and he would work.

“We need him here as our brother but also because he can help work and earn money,” Nadakaid explains, as her mother begins to cry at the table next to her. 

Now, rather than having two wage-earners in the home, the family lives off a janitor’s salary and sends $300 a month home to their oldest son in Yemen, where the situation is even more dire.

‘The other kids get to eat the food there, but we can’t.’

While her father works, Nadakaid’s mother manages the household and children, takes English classes and volunteers at the weekly food pantry hosted by the Food Bank.

“The vegetables are really good. We like the eggs – the eggs are good. It helps, but we still need to buy chicken and flour and it’s hard because the stores make the prices so high,” Nadakaid says. Curran House is located in an urban food desert, where grocery costs are notoriously high and selections of fresh food are notoriously limited.

“We have to buy food, but there’s a lot of kids in our house. We can’t go out to eat. If we go to the zoo, we can’t eat the food there. We have to bring our own. The other kids get to eat the food there, but we can’t.”

A mother’s worry
The quiet tears begin to flow more freely down her mother’s face.

“Everyone relies on my mom,” Nadakaid says, watching her mother cry. “My mom, she’s trying to go to Golden Gate University to learn English but she has to cook and she has to take care of six kids. All she can think of is us.”

The family keeps a careful budget, with rent, food and school supplies at the top of the list. Sometimes they can’t afford to pay the utility bill, and Nadakaid said one time their electricity was cut off.

“We only buy what we need,” Nadakaid says. “My little brother loves milk, so we buy him milk a lot and we try to afford that. First we get the things we really need, and then we ask for the things that we want, and my mom gets a headache.

“When I see my mom stressed out, it’s hard for me to watch because I want her to be happy.

“My mom would buy things for the kids but never for herself. She needs all the help she can. We really appreciate the Food Bank and all the people trying to help us.

“We’re happy. We’re not wealthy – we’re not rich – but we’re happy,” Nadakaid says.