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Creating a Community with Food & Culture

Updated: May 31

Faheem came to the U.S. from Sudan so his daughters could go to school just like his sons. His family of nine had been receiving food from Caring Coalition for several months when I realized our food boxes were not really meeting their needs.

I paid a visit to a large Middle Eastern market in Central Phoenix to find items that would work well for this family. The owner of the market introduced me to a young Sudanese teen, Ibrahim, who was manning the cash register.

He took me up and down each aisle, pointing out the items he recognized. He confided, with a sheepish grin, “I just know what the food looks like after my mother prepares it. I don’t know what some of these things are.”

A Yemeni woman in a colorful hijab overheard our conversation. She approached me, saying, “We can just google it.” She took me up and down the same aisles, consulting her phone, selecting items, and cheerfully tossing them into my cart.

While we were shopping, she described the culinary traditions of Yemen, told me about her career in IT, and inquired about my own family and work. Her young son ran around the store boisterously, saying hello to everyone in his path. His enthusiasm was matched by the patrons he encountered, as they returned his greeting warmly, calling him by name.

When I reached the register, there was a plethora of spices, beans, vegetables, and sauces in my cart. I put some things aside, telling the cashier I would get them next time. While I was loading my car, Ibrahim came out to the parking lot with a bag of groceries in his arms. He said, “The man in line behind you paid for the things you couldn’t buy. He wanted you to have them.”

It was a shopping trip I will never forget. I was among people I had never met before but felt like I was with family. I hope Faheem and his family feel as welcome in Phoenix as I felt that day.

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