By Mark Bretz


Every month Operation Food Search, as the largest distributor of free food in the St. Louis metropolitan area, distributes more than 1.5 million pounds of food to 100,000 people in need through its 265 community partner agencies.


Addressing the needs of so many people every month requires the utmost precision and dedication of thousands of volunteers as well as the staff of Operation Food Search and its many partners.  While the agency’s top priority since its inception in 1981 has been to address the growing problem of hunger, OFS has consistently focused its efforts in ways that also benefit the environment.


“Every day we benefit from the generosity of thousands of people in our community who work to alleviate the dire poverty in the metropolitan area,” says Sunny Schaefer, executive director of Operation Food Search.  “Food producers, volunteers, food pantries and other corporations, organizations and individuals all work together to help address hunger in an environmentally responsible fashion.”


More than 2,000 volunteers donate more than 10,000 hours every year helping keep Operation Food Search a well-oiled machine.  The agency’s trucks criss-cross the region picking up overstocked, short-dated or unused food, both perishable and shelf stable, from 900 donors who represent the grocery industry, manufacturers and distributors as well as salvaging leftover prepared food from employee cafeterias, hospitals, hotels, restaurants, schools, universities and special events.


Collection and distribution of such foods offers a win-win situation for everyone involved, as it finds a valuable use for food no longer saleable yet still nutritious and edible.


Salvaging that massive volume of food on a regular basis serves the area’s environment as well as the significant segment of the population (more than 11 percent in Missouri and Illinois and more than 20 percent in the City of St. Louis) who live in poverty.  Surplus food that is routed to those in need helps fill empty stomachs instead of taking up finite space in landfills.


Operation Food Search helps the environment as well with its “Furniture to Food” and “Metal to Food” programs.  With “Furniture to Food,” OFS dismantles and moves used office furniture through the assistance of professional, licensed and insured furniture experts who give a portion of their net proceeds to the organization, which in turn purchases needed food supplies.  The dismantled furniture itself is utilized in recycling efforts, avoiding a wasteful end in a landfill.


OFS’ “Metal to Food” program turns scrap metal into food that feeds the hungry through the services of Becker Iron & Metal, which donates a portion of its net proceeds from transactions to the agency for the purchase of food supplies.  The scrap then is sorted and sold for a variety of uses rather than being wastefully dumped.


While Operation Food Search is the largest distributor of free food for the region’s poor, an amazing 99 percent of its revenue is used for program services, generating $17 worth of goods and services to its 265 non-profit agency partners for every dollar donated.  For more information about “Furniture to Food,” “Metal to Food” or Operation Food Search itself, please visit www.ofsearch.org, e-mail info@ofsearch.org or call 314-726-5355.