Stephanie Scott-Huffman had a unique idea to dish out to the community, and Kolbi Ward had the right ingredients.
Scott-Huffman wanted to reduce food insecurity and empower residents of Mid-Missouri by giving residents a place to get fresh ingredients for whole meals that allows them to achieve self-sufficiency and leave their families full and happy.
Ward had developed that discipline for herself, husband and three children, using an affordable monthly food budget to feed her family fresh, natural, healthy meals.
The friends headed to the kitchen, mixed together their ingredients and served up an exceptional food donation organization in Jefferson City: The Pantry. Since July 2014, The Pantry has provided complete meals along with recipes to make cooking for a family as easy as pie, allowing anyone – regardless of income, identification or geographic requirements – to receive the monthly food distributions. This recipe for success feeds The Pantry’s patrons, who become full in life, for their family and for society.
“When we teach people how to feed their family, we are helping the community. … If everyone can make real, healthy food, especially when all of what they need is right in their hands, you become a better community member,” Ward said.
Before patrons attend The Pantry’s distribution day typically held the fourth Friday of each month at Table of Grace now located at 409 Ellis Blvd., fellow Mid-Missouri residents volunteer to perform a variety of duties.
Known as “prep time,” these volunteers work with Ward, Scott-Huffman and The Pantry volunteer coordinator Sherrie Downs to package the high-quality, non-processed ingredients purchased or given through generous donations for five to six meal options on The Pantry’s menu.
Those ingredients make a three-day supply of breakfast items individually packaged for each person in the household and at least a three-day supply of dinner entrées packaged in amounts to allow for leftovers to supply smaller lunch portions the following day. Ward developed recipes and chose specific items that not only taste delicious, but are filling, easy to make from scratch, can create a minimum of six servings and include ingredients that cost less than $5 each.
“When we say you are getting three days of breakfast and three days of dinner for everyone in your family, that is the bare minimum that everyone will leave here with,” Ward said, noting that larger families will receive double of one meal. “When you have a smaller family of one or two people, and you choose white bean chicken chili, for example, you are probably going to have enough for a week. The portions are very generous. … We would rather give more than enough than not enough.”
The decision on what recipes to regularly include on The Pantry’s menu were made to appeal to a diverse palate. However, they also help people understand how to create a simple dish that completely changes by adding different seasonings.
For breakfast, guests can choose from four options: cinnamon and brown sugar oatmeal, cream of wheat, grits and biscuit mix. In selecting three to four dinner choices, families can have white bean chicken chili or chicken pot pie, which have the same seasonings, or chicken and rice with vegetables, red beans and rice or chicken pasta and vegetables, choosing between four seasoning mixes that include curry, Mexican, garlic/Italian or lemon pepper. All the meals are non-dairy and free of allergens, using high quality frozen vegetables.
“Giving people options that they may not think of is nice, and it is restaurant quality food,” Ward said. “The pasta and rice dishes are tied for second, but the one people are upset if we don’t have is the chicken pot pie. … The white bean chicken chili, people are really loving it, too.”
No matter what dinner options patrons select, they receive the recipes for every meal on the menu. In line with The Pantry’s philosophy, these recipes allow them to spend $5 or less to create any of the entrées at home.
Ward said the chicken pasta and vegetables dish is the most expensive, with ingredients costing a total of $4.85, but the red beans and rice is about $2.35 for everything.
“You can make dinner for $5, making plenty to have leftovers the next day. … It is cheaper than ordering of the dollar menu at (a fast food restaurant), and it is healthy, building your self-confidence that you can feed your family,” she said. “That is huge.”
Scott-Huffman also said they chose meals that take 20 minutes or less to make outside of a little prep time.
“We give them instructions on how to prep things ahead of time. If you take all the chicken we give you, which is six to eight packages, put them in a crockpot and portion them out and throw them in the freezer, all you have to do is pull them out when you use them,” Ward said. “This makes all the meals 20 minutes or less to cook for your family for dinner. It takes less time than going (out to eat) and coming back home. Everybody needs quick and easy. If you learn how to do that once, you can adopt that for any other meals you are going to make.”
Outside of receiving free meals and recipes, guests can also obtain information on creating a meal plan, grocery shopping on a budget or learning how to prepare meals from scratch. A lot of the same information is in Ward’s book, “Eating on the Cheap,” which is $7 at The Pantry distribution days, available on Amazon.com and at the Missouri River Regional Library. However, Ward often gives them out to The Pantry patrons for free. In her book, she includes a variety of recipes, including the same ones used at The Pantry, meal plans, budget shopping, inexpensive party planning and other helpful tips like how to make laundry detergent.
Like the information available through The Pantry, the book shares two different grocery shopping budgets: one that is $100 and another that is $200 for a family of four. Those plans also teach families how to make meals utilizing the same ingredients, such as using oatmeal and the biscuit mix from the chicken pot pie recipe to make delicious cookies.
“Everything is there to feed your family on both monthly budgets, teaching them to make meals from scratch and how to shop smart,” she said. “On both budgets, I included the stuff to make cookies because if you are headed down hill, making cookies makes such a difference. It puts a smile on yours and your family’s face. Don’t cut the cookies.”
Outside of the five static meals on The Pantry’s menu, cookies or desserts sometimes fall on the alternate, seasonal sixth option. People donate things that don’t necessarily fit into the recipes, so organizers include a recipe using those ingredients that fits into this option, such as tuna casserole.
“Once or twice a year, we get venison from Share the Harvest. … We can change it up, adding another choice with venison meatballs and spaghetti,” she said. “For Thanksgiving, we do distribution the week before, so often we have brownies, pies, cupcakes or something extra for their dinner, doing the same thing during the holidays.”
Scott-Huffman said they receive some turkeys to also give away at The Pantry before Thanksgiving, with cosmetic supplies, diapers and other donated items for families who need them throughout the year when available.
Their mission in “feeding the community” has paid off in the last three years, meeting their goal of serving 115 to 120 families of four per month, and feeding 375-400 individuals. Scott-Huffman said about 60-70 percent of those families are working or in a temporary unemployment situation.
Those people include a lady who just received custody of her grandchildren and needed to prepare meals they could all enjoy, or a single teacher who did not qualify for other programs when her sister and her three children came to live with her after the sister escaped an abusive relationship.
“One woman came to us in tears, wanting to volunteer at The Pantry because she needed food and volunteering made her feel better to receive it,” Ward said. “She took the skills she has learned here and comes back to volunteer and help out, doing very well now.”
“Another lady came to us because she had just lost her job, and after coming here, her husband lost his job. She told us if she didn’t have our food, they wouldn’t have food right now at all,” Scott-Huffman added. “We hear stories like this all the time.”
No matter the individual story, The Pantry is serving its mission to feed the entire community.
“Jesus said feed the people. For us, we don’t need to pick and choose if someone needs food,” said Scott-Huffman. “We don’t care. If someone needs it, they need it and we feed them.”
Donations are always needed, with the main ingredients needed being rotini pasta, oats and wild rice. To find out how to donate financially or through resources, recipes, volunteer opportunities and distribution schedule, visit thepantryjc.org or their Facebook page.
Kolbi Ward shared a few of her recipes from her book, “Eating on the Cheap.”
Her popular chicken pot pie is used at The Pantry and is a cozy warm comfort food during the cold winter months. This delicious dessert will also sweeten any holiday gathering.
1-2 lb chicken, cooked
12-16 oz frozen mixed vegetables
2 chicken bouillon cubes
2 cups water
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp Jane’s Krazy Salt
1 tbsp poultry seasoning
2 cup flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup milk (or water)
Preheat oven to 375° F. Cook chicken and remove bones and skin (if applicable), then dice or shred meat. Combine all ingredients except biscuit mix and milk. Microwave on high or cook on stove until it reaches a boil (about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally. Boil 1 minute. Pour into 9-by-13 pan.
Combine biscuit dry ingredients. Cut in shortening (rub it between your fingers until the shortening is all mixed with the flour mixture). Add milk (it will be sticky), press out on floured surface into a roughly 8 inch square, cut into 12 pieces and place on top of chicken mixture. Bake 25-30 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown. Makes six to eight servings. You could also use pie crust on top or top, bottom and sides.
8 oz good chocolate, chopped finely
1/2 cup coconut milk fat
1/2-1 tsp flavoring (peppermint, orange, vanilla, coconut, whatever!)
Topping ideas: Hot chocolate mix, cocoa powder and powdered sugar, shredded coconut, crushed candy canes, instant coffee
Melt chocolate in microwave for about 3 minutes on 30 percent power, stirring every 30 seconds.
To collect the coconut milk fat, put the can in the refrigerator for several hours, then open the can from the bottom without shaking! You will be able to pour off the liquid and the solid part left is what you want.
Mix everything together, put in refrigerator to cool. Scoop with spoons and roll in your hands to form balls; then roll in topping of your choice.