Chow Town

Unsung hero prepares meals served off of truck to Kansas City’s homeless

Kathy Smith of Shawnee preparing meals for the homeless
Kathy Smith of Shawnee preparing meals for the homeless Special to The Star

Do you know an unsung hero? You know the type of person who gives tirelessly and generously provides for those in need with no recognition, award or publicity. I have such a friend.

She has given of her time and talent every year for more than 20 years by preparing meals that can be served off trucks to the homeless of Kansas City. Now mind you we are not talking beanie weenies, oh no, for she is a gourmet cook on her own and works hard to create home cooked, tasty meals for those in need.

She prepares a variety of meals, such as gumbo, fried chicken, chicken noodle soup or meatball grinder sandwiches. She creates meals that not only taste good and nourish the individuals, the meals remind us all that those on the street need and deserve a better life.

Kathy Smith of Shawnee has worked with Uplift Organization Inc. loyally for decades. She has donated meals, money and time, all of which are precious commodities these days.

My family had the pleasure of preparing a meal with Smith and accompanying her on the food truck, feeding the homeless of the inner city. What an evening to remember! It was one of the hottest evenings in July. The air was thick, humid and overbearing, but need knows no season, nor does it exist in climate-controlled conditions.

The folks on the street were some of the kindest you could meet. Interesting? You bet! The poetry reading remains etched in our memory. The polite and heartfelt thank yous were constant and there was a general atmosphere of genuine appreciation everywhere.

The entire evening changed our family forever. We came home after a long evening feeding about 75 people over a 10 mile radius with a new outlook on our city. Our teenager commented, “We take a lot for granted, don’t we mom?”

Driving by those street corners weeks after our food truck evening remind us that we are here for more than the day to day drill of life. We are on this earth to make a difference. We should all make the kind of difference that Smith has been making all along.

The love of food and the motivation to share it, the desire to serve, and the caring respect for each individual are all aspects that can touch and inspire each and every one in our city. Smith learned that life lesson long ago.

There is an army of Smiths out there who volunteer each and every week with little to no recognition. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Let each of us thank an unsung hero, or better yet, roll up our sleeves and help.

Here is one of Smith’s favorite recipes to share with her friends from the Uplift truck.

Meatball Grinder Sandwiches

Makes 4 servings

For the meatballs:

1 pound ground chuck

3 eggs

1/2 cup fresh Italian bread crumbs

1/2 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper

3/4 teaspoon salt

3 cloves garlic, minced

Red sauce for meatballs

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed

1 cup chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves (or use dried basil leaves)

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, do not drain

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

Meatball Grinder Sandwiches:

4 hoagie buns

Shredded mozzarella cheese

For Meatballs: Heat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Combine meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Form mixture into about 12 meatballs. Arrange meatballs in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Bake, uncovered, for 12 to 14 minutes or until meat thermometer inserted into the center of the meatballs reach 165 degrees. Allow meatballs to rest for 10 minutes.

To Prepare Red Sauce: In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium high heat. Add sausage, onion, garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes. Cook until sausage is cooked through, breaking sausage into small pieces with a spoon. Add crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Bring sauce to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer.

Add meatballs to sauce and simmer for 2 hours.

To assemble 4 Meatball Grinder sandwiches: Toast 4 hoagie buns. Sprinkle the inside of each bun generously with shredded mozzarella cheese. Place 3 meatballs in each bun and drizzle with a generous amount of sauce. Wrap each sandwich tightly in aluminum foil. Heat in a 375°F oven for about 5 to 10 minutes for cheese to melt.

Roxanne Wyss is one of two cookbook authors and food consultants that make up The Electrified Cooks. Her most recent cookbook is Slow Cooker Desserts, Oh So Easy, Oh So Delicious! and The Newlywed Cookbook: Cooking Happily Ever After was introduced earlier this year. She develops the recipes for the “Eating for Life” column for The Kansas City Star and is a member of Les Dames d'Escoffier. She blogs at