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O’Fallon residents band together to fill Salvation Army pantry

Packed and ready to go: More than 5,700 food items were collected during a “surprise food drive” on behalf of the O’Fallon Salvation Army.

Packed and ready to go: More than 5,700 food items were collected during a “surprise food drive” on behalf of the O’Fallon Salvation Army.

Several groups in the O’Fallon community recently responded to the needs of the local Salvation Army branch by facilitating a surprise food drive, which netted the food pantry a bounty of chow for the hungry families it serves.

“I want to start off by asking everyone to remember this number – 5,711,” O’Fallon resident John Callahan said at the March 12 O’Fallon City Council meeting. During public comments, Callahan addressed the audience and council, informing them that 5,711 different food items had been collected and donated to the Salvation Army’s food pantry.

“This is a great and tremendous community,” Callahan said.

He said he had visited the O’Fallon Salvation Army several weeks ago, and saw “two boxes of apples and a small table with about 20-25 cans.”

Seeing this spurred Callahan and several of his friends to help coordinate a replenishment drive, creating a bandwagon upon which local Cub Scout pack #813, the O’Fallon Elks Lodge and even the city of O’Fallon all jumped on.

The Cub Scouts collected five non-perishable food items each as a price of entry for their Blue and Gold Celebration, and in doing so acquired 450 items. Volunteers went to the Shop ‘n Save on Mexico Loop Road and collected 4,250 items, including boxes of cereal, canned goods and dry soup mixes. Lastly, city of O’Fallon employees held a good-natured competition to see which department could donate the most, collecting a total of 1,011 canned goods.

“It was a lot of fun,” City Administrator Bonnie Therrien said. “Volunteer services coordinated it for us. It was a big competition between police and public works. It was neck and neck and neck and guess who won? Finance – we never heard boo from finance the entire time until the last day.”

The O’Fallon Salvation Army, located at 1 William Booth Drive, covers the western half of St. Charles County. The food pantry is open three mornings every week and feeds between 140-150 families during those three mornings, according to Major Paul Ferguson from the O’Fallon Salvation Army.

“Last year around 40,000 people received food here in O’Fallon,” Ferguson said. “And those are people (from) anywhere in the western half of the county. We are always in need of food.”

Ferguson said the Salvation Army recently has been seeing an increase in the need for aid by local families in the county.

“We’re seeing a lot more people in neighborhoods from middle-class suburbs coming in for food,” Ferguson said. “People who never had to ask for food before. New families come here every week.”

He added that with the onset of summer, the need for food will be even greater. According to Ferguson, the biggest need for food comes when schools let out.

“People have the warm, fuzzy picture of people needing food at Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving,” Ferguson said. “But the time when the need is highest is summertime, because kids who are in school are getting at least one, sometimes two, meals a day. And all of a sudden, summer comes around and mom and dad have to come up with three meals instead of one.

“For those that are struggling, the struggle gets a little tougher.”

Ferguson said the community’s replenishment efforts were “quite a blessing.”

“It was amazing to get as much has they did in two short days with a relatively small group of people,” Ferguson said. “We are really grateful to them.”

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