“If somebody needs my help, I will give it to them. That’s how it goes.”

Gamal* and his family are from Morocco. They fled domestic violence there and settled in San Francisco two years ago. Gamal is 19 years old. He’s a pantry volunteer and client. Here is his story in his own words:

I’m from Casablanca. I live like, 15 years in Morocco and when I was four years old, my dad, he died. And my mom, she raised us. She used to work in hotels so she could get money and support us and raise us all herself. She raised us well. She never let us down.

Gamal is a client and volunteer at a pantry in Bayview Hunters Point.

My big brother used to work to help my mom. And my big sister, she used to work, too. Me, too. When I turned 12, I started to work at a fish shop. Because the way my mom told us how to be, and how she told us my dad was, it made me feel like I had to become a man and I had to support myself. You know what I mean?

And one day, I was sitting on our block and my brother, he came and he told me, “pack up. You’re going to America.” I was so happy. And when I take the airplane, me and my sister, we put our feet down here in San Francisco. It was my first city in America. I’m very glad I came to this country. I love my country, but I love this country more.

When I moved here, I go to school for one year and I didn’t know anything. It was like a new language and it was hard for me to learn all the words and the letters. And I didn’t know how to speak for all that year. At that time, my brother-in-law, he brought us food from the Food Bank. And I was like, let me go see. So I got a number and I was waiting. And the truck came and they put the food outside. And there was a lady there.  She was working, lifting heavy stuff.

A pantry volunteer readies canned tomatoes for distribution

And how my mom raised me, she told me, all the time respect older people and all the time help older people, you know what I mean? If you see somebody doing something and they cannot do it and you can, then do it. So I saw the lady lifting the heavy stuff and I asked her, “can I help you?”  And she said, “sure, thank you so much.”  And she ask, “do you want to be a volunteer?” And I said, “sure.”

When I help at the food pantry and when I am working, I don’t show what I feel inside. It’s like, I’m all the time smiling to the people. I’m walking down the street and I’m smiling to everybody. It’s like everybody, they think I’m happy and stuff like that, but I’m not. I’m all the time scared and all the time thinking about my mom and thinking about getting an education, and learning how to read and write English better so I can support my mom more. Because she deserves that, you know?

So I work with my brother-in-law, fixing cars with him. But Wednesday is the food pantry and I told him, I’m going there. And then I started bringing food to my mom and she was happy. My mom cooks Moroccan food. The stuff we get, it’s like, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, sometimes juice, sometimes eggs, sometimes rice – all that food, we can cook it like Moroccan food.

So basically, I’m like three years in America. One year, I need help and two years, I help others. I volunteer at the food pantry. It’s like, if I need help, I will take it. But if somebody needs my help, I will give it to them. That’s how it goes.

*Name changed to protect identity.

A Recipe for Good Nutrition

Sampling a healthy recipe for pantry clients

At grocery pantries, we don’t just hand out food – we also hand out advice and information.

We give clients recipes and fact sheets to get them acquainted with our many fresh produce items, so they know how to use them in their meals. That’s especially important when clients aren’t culturally familiar with a particular vegetable or fruit.

Recently, we’ve gone even further, partnering with fellow non-profit, Leah’s Pantry, to test a broader nutrition education program at some of our 200+ grocery pantries.

The seminars are 1.5-hour sessions over the course of six weeks.  They  educate our clients about the food distributed throughout the pantry network, and help them create smart goals based on nutritious and healthy lifestyles.

At one pantry, we introduced many people to the nutritious and easy-to-prepare grain, quinoa. At others, we recently demonstrated and sampled a healthy, delicious recipe using mushrooms and bell peppers – fresh items which were available free to clients.

Here’s the recipe, in case you’d like to cook up something healthy yourself!

San Francisco Food Bank’s Mushrooms & Red Pepper Crostini

Serves 4


½ pound mushrooms

1 whole red pepper

3 cloves garlic

2-3 Tbsp. oil (olive oil, if available)


Wipe dirt off mushrooms with a wet towel. Trim stems of mushrooms and slice thinly.

Rinse red pepper and remove stem. Cut peppers in half lengthwise, remove seeds and de-vein. Slice into thin strips.

Peel garlic and chop finely.

Pour 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil into a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan. Heat on medium. When oil is hot, add mushrooms, peppers and garlic slices. Saute until vegetables are soft, being careful not to burn the garlic or over-cook the vegetables. Serve warm on toast or as a side dish.


Fresh mushrooms should be stored with cool air circulating around them. They should be placed on a tray in a single layer, covered with a damp paper towel and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Before use, they should be wiped with a damp paper towel or, if necessary, rinsed with cold water and dried thoroughly. Mushroom often taste like meat when cooked and seasoned well, so they are a great meat-substitute for vegetarians.

Did you know?

Half of the food the San Francisco Food bank distributes is fresh produce!
Tell us what you think!

Please use the comment field below to share your thoughts – and your own recipes.

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