Diane Smith of Lenexa helps spread goodwill and good food to the thousands of people in the 26-county radius of Kansas City who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
A registered dietitian and retired director of food services in local school districts for 30 years, Smith says it’s her calling to feed hungry people. A current volunteer and former board member of Harvesters — the Community Food Network, Smith enjoys eating with friends and family, which includes Bruce, her husband of 39 years, as well as two children and an 8-year-old granddaughter.
Q: Do you have a resolution or wish for the new year?
A: Wouldn’t it be great if we could eradicate hunger in our community? The statistics are staggering: One out of every 7 people in our area is hungry. When we’re just talking about children, it’s 1 out of every 5 that’s hungry.
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These statistics boggle my mind, especially because we are living in the heartland and so close to the farms that produce food to feed the world. And there is a real need to provide food for people year-round, not just around the holidays.
Q: You seem very passionate about feeding people.
A: I grew up on a farm in Nebraska, the second oldest of 11 children. Now there are so many “food deserts” in rural and urban areas without access to grocery stores. But just because people have access to grocery stores doesn’t always mean they have the money to purchase food, either.
When I became the director of food services for the Shawnee Mission School District in 1990, 7 percent of the children were receiving free and reduced-cost lunches. By the time I retired in 2007, that number had risen to 23 percent of the children receiving free and reduced-cost lunches. For the 2015 school year, that number of children has grown to 37.4 percent.
For children that are food-insecure, school lunches fill that gap. But I often think about those children during the summer months and how we reach their families. Especially since the recession hit in 2008, the number of hungry children grows. Last year Harvesters delivered 46 million pounds of food, and this year the total is over 50 million pounds delivered — and there’s still need.
Q: Is people’s hunger in our community sometimes a problem that goes undetected?
A: There can be shame attached to hunger, especially if you’re a parent that’s working really hard and still not able to buy food for your family. And when a person is hungry, there’s little else one can think about except food. It makes it hard for children who are hungry to excel in school, because their stomachs are empty.
To make a difference in people’s lives, we have to help feed them first. That is why I’m so proud to have been affiliated with Harvesters for 16 years, as a board member for six years and as a volunteer.
Q: The beauty of this recipe is that you can have many of the ingredients on hand, stored in the pantry.
A: This dip is also loaded with vegetables and protein from the beans. Serve with a whole-grain cracker, and you get the crunch along with fiber. This recipe is also versatile, in that you can also serve it over lettuce as a healthy salad option.
This is also a great dish to bring to those New Year’s parties. The sharing of food is such an important part of our social life as humans. We not only need to eat to survive physically, we are wired to eat communally with others for our emotional well-being, too. I enjoy consulting with Harvesters on their nutrition education curriculum, and for me there’s no better feeling than to meet the needs of hungry people.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate a cook.
How to help
Donate time or resources to Harvesters — the Community Food Network, 3801 Topping Ave., by going to harvesters.org and clicking the “Take Action” link.
This recipe can be easily doubled.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 (15-ounce) can black beans or black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can shoe-peg or yellow corn, drained
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup diced yellow bell pepper
1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
1 small red onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large fresh tomato, chopped or 1 (15-ounce) can fresh-cut, diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/3 cup fat-free Italian dressing
1 (4-ounce) bag spring lettuce, optional
In a large bowl, combine black beans (or black-eyed peas), corn, peppers, onion, garlic, tomato and cilantro. Gently toss to combine.
Pour Italian dressing over top and gently stir to coat. Cover with lid or plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least 3 hours before serving.
Can be served with crackers or corn chips as a dip, or spooned over spring lettuce and eaten as a salad.
Per serving, based on 6: 155 calories (7 percent from fat), 1 gram total fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 32 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 220 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber.