If you walk into retirement communities throughout St. Charles County during the month of December, you’ll undoubtedly see Christmas trees, menorahs and poinsettias decorating the lobbies, but there is another common item you may not expect – royal blue 40-gallon trash barrels. Stickered with the Operation Food Search [OFS] tomato logo, these containers aren’t meant for garbage, but rather non-perishable food donations for the St. Charles County Ambulance District [SCCAD] ‘Fill the Ambulance with Food’ initiative. Now in its 11th year, ‘Fill the Ambulance’ has become a hallmark of the holiday season for St. Charles County seniors, who weren’t going to let a pandemic stop them from helping heal hunger in their community.
This year’s event looked different than those of years past due to COVID-19. Seniors typically take advantage of multiple shopping trips organized by facilities to purchase items like canned vegetables, beans, cereal, and other items highly sought by food pantries. But to limit exposure to those most vulnerable, retirement communities have put a pause on shopping.
“Canceling ‘Fill the Ambulance’ was not an option,” said Debbie Coval, Executive Director of Park Place Senior Living in Winghaven. “Seniors across the county have taken ownership of this program, and feel strongly about helping those suffering from food insecurity during the holiday season.”
Retirement community leadership employed a variety of strategies to ensure everyone who wanted to donate was safely able to do so. Some utilized online ordering services to have their donations delivered, while others asked staff or family members to do shopping for them. One community, Fairwinds Rivers Edge, even established a small-scale grocery store in their building to enable residents to select items for those in need.
“The innovation and determination demonstrated by these St. Charles County seniors is awe-inspiring. At a time of heightened need, they are a true testament to the ability of a community to heal hunger in the region,” said Kristen Wild, OFS Executive Director.
Though the name suggests that donations were loaded into an advanced life support unit, seniors’ support of this initiative outgrew a single ambulance years ago. Thankfully, partner pantries are armed with a box truck that paramedics loaded with 7,128 lbs. of donated food on December 18. Over $1,000 in cash donations were also collected for OFS.
Communities participating in ‘Fill the Ambulance with Food’ included: Twin Oaks at Heritage Pointe, Twin Oaks at Stone Ridge, Lakeridge Senior Apartments, Park Place Senior Living, Garden Villas of O’Fallon, Breeze Park, Lake St. Charles, Fairwinds River’s Edge, Clarendale of St. Peters and Brookdale St. Peters. Freedom Fitness locations in Wentzville and Cottleville also participated in this year’s event.