Cristi Smith of Gardner spreads good food and goodwill to hundreds of Kansas City’s homeless through her work at Hope Faith Ministries.
Smith believes it’s her calling to feed hungry people and help them to break the cycle of homelessness. Though her job is fulfilling, Smith says her greatest life work is being married to Scott and raising their 5-year-old son, Elijah. “I’m so blessed to come home with our son and cook with him after a long day of work,” she says. “Being in my kitchen with Elijah gives me a sense of calm and accomplishment.”
Q: Do you have a resolution or wish for the new year?
A: One of my greatest wishes is that there would be no need for my job, because homelessness would be eradicated and families wouldn’t live on the streets. But until that day comes, homelessness isn’t just a problem around the holidays and when the weather turns bitter cold. There is a need to provide food and services for people living on the street year-round.
Our organization is a day center where the poor and homeless can come for food, hygiene products, clothing, medical services and computer training. First, we have to address the basic human needs of providing food, clothing and shelter. Then people can start to move toward a life of independence.
As part of a personal resolution, I am turning my attention to finishing a cookbook I have started called “A Few of My Favorite Things.” It features about 50 recipes I have compiled through the years that will hopefully help people get back into cooking in their kitchens.
Q: You seem very passionate about feeding people and sharing food.
A: I grew up in Houston’s inner city with my mother, Sharon Parker, and grandmother Marlene “Honey” Sapp. We were always living on the edge, and my mother made significant sacrifices in order to ensure there was food to eat and to keep a roof over our heads. When I was 11, my mother married and that took us out of poverty, but I’ve never forgotten the lessons I learned early on in my life.
Today, I spend between $250 to $300 every month to feed our family fresh, wholesome meals, and I am passionate about sharing my knowledge with other people about how I’ve learned to cook and shop sales to generate health and wealth by being thrifty.
Q: Have you ever been homeless yourself?
A: In 2011, both my husband and I lost our jobs within the span of a month. I was five months pregnant, and if we didn’t have his family in Kansas City to live with, we would have been homeless. I am eternally grateful for the love of family that surrounds us.
I am very disciplined when it comes to purchasing groceries and planning menus. I never go to the grocery store without a list. I shop the sale ads and go to places that will match sale prices, so I don’t have to spend a lot of time driving from store to store. I know every ingredient I am buying and how it fits into our menu plan for the next two weeks. When I get home, I prepare the food — such as boiling chicken — place it in plastic bags and mark it accordingly for each recipe.
These are the lessons I have learned through life, and it takes the stress out of the question, “What is my next meal?” when I’ve planned for it and know exactly what we are eating.
Q: The beauty of this recipe you’ve shared is that you can have many of the ingredients on hand, stored in the pantry.
A: This is also a great dish to bring to those New Year’s parties, and it can feed a crowd.
The sharing of food is such an important part of our human existence. That is why I constantly have Elijah cooking with me in the kitchen. I want him to develop a taste for fresh foods and steer clear of junk. It makes me sad when people who are receiving food assistance buy chips, soda and junk foods.
I think part of the reason for this is because there is no real education about how many different ways you can prepare a chicken: a roasted chicken can be dinner one night, then the leftover meat can become a chicken pot pie or placed in a taco soup for another meal.
This is part of the education of how to not only feed our bodies the good food it needs to thrive, but also knowing how to do it on a limited budget. Yes, it feels good to meet the needs of hungry people, but it feels even better when you can pass on the knowledge you’ve acquired to be able to feed yourself and your family.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
If you want to help
Donate time or resources to Hope Faith Ministries, 705 Virginia Ave., by going to HopeFaithMinistries.org and clicking the Ways to Give link.
Loaded Bean Dip
Makes 20 servings as an appetizer
For the dip:
1 (1-pound) package ground beef, turkey or chicken
1 (1-ounce) packet low-sodium taco seasoning
2/3 cup salsa
1 (40.5-ounce) can refried beans
1 1/2 cups shredded Monterrey Jack or cheddar cheese, divided usage
Diced fresh tomatoes
Minced sweet onion
In a Dutch oven over medium heat on stovetop, brown ground meat and drain off grease.
Stir in taco seasoning, salsa, refried beans and 1/2 cup cheese until well combined and warmed through.
Transfer contents of pot into 9-inch glass, microwave-safe dish. Top with remaining cheese. Either place in microwave for 3 minutes on high power or place under broiler at 500 degrees for 3-5 minutes, until cheese is melted.
To serve, place hot dish on table surrounded by corn chips, lettuce, sour cream, tomatoes and onion. Allow guests to build nachos by spooning out bean dip and sprinkling toppings of choice over all. Serve immediately, while dip is hot.
Per serving: 159 calories (45 percent from fat), 8 grams total fat (4 grams saturated), 25 milligrams cholesterol, 12 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams protein, 435 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.