If you step into retirement communities throughout St. Charles County in December, you’ll undoubtedly see trees, menorahs and snowflakes adorning the lobbies, but there is another item you may not expect to find – royal blue 40-gallon trash barrels. Featuring the distinctive Operation Food Search [OFS] tomato logo, these receptacles are not meant for garbage, but rather for cans, boxes and bags of food for the St. Charles County Ambulance District [SCCAD] ‘Fill the Ambulance with Food’ initiative, which has become a hallmark of the holiday season. Once the barrels were loaded and the donations logged, the tally reached a record-setting 9,500 lbs. of nutritious food donations, which OFS representatives estimate will provide one full day of meals for 2,375 individuals.
‘Fill the Ambulance’ immediately resonated with retirees upon its inception, and over the course of more than a decade has amassed over 55,000 lbs. of food that stays local to St. Charles County. Though the name suggests donations will be loaded into an advanced life support unit, support of the initiative long ago outgrew a single ambulance. Thankfully, partner pantries are armed with box trucks that will help donations find their way to shelves.
“The excitement for ‘Fill the Ambulance’ begins very early,” said Fairwinds River’s Edge General Manager Jim Ausmus. “Residents begin asking around Halloween when we’re getting our blue barrels!” Ausmus and his team took a unique approach to the initiative in 2020 when COVID case counts were at their peak, creating a miniature grocery store within the lobby so residents could shop safely. The concept was a hit, and the store was open for business again this year!
‘Fill the Ambulance’ continues to grow not only in quantity of food collected, but also in terms of the number of participating communities. Through the years, new facilities opening in St. Charles County have enthusiastically embraced the program. This year’s participants included: Twin Oaks Stone Ridge, Twin Oaks at Heritage Pointe, Boulevard Wentzville, Boulevard St. Charles, Park Place Senior Living, Garden Villas of O’Fallon, Avalon Park, Breeze Park, Lake St. Charles, Fairwinds River’s Edge, Watermark of St. Peters, Clarendale St. Peters, Lake Ridge Senior Apartments, along with Freedom Fitness locations in Cottleville and Wentzville.
“The sustained level of dedication and commitment to ‘Fill the Ambulance’ is both heartwarming and awe-inspiring,” said Kristen Wild, OFS President and CEO. “Through their contributions, these seniors will help heal the hurt of hunger for hundreds of individuals and families in their community.”