Our History

Operation Food Search Timeline

1977: Searching for Solutions

Vintage photo of Dierbergs grocery store

Roger Dierberg is working in his office above Dierbergs Four Seasons store, when a former priest named Henry Leissing stops in with an idea. He wants to take the produce that doesn’t get sold and give it to people who are hungry. Dierberg likes the idea of getting the food to people in need. Leissing begins to pick up the produce twice a week and deliver it to the Hi-Pointe pantry in St. Louis City.


To our knowledge, this partnership was the first time such a program of food rescue existed in the area. Though food banks had been around for several years, it was not typical to rescue produce and take it to a pantry.

1977-1980: United Hunger Effort

Volunteer and State Representative work together to deliver perishable food

Henry Leissing (who eventually becomes our Community Organizer), State Representative Patrick Daugherty and Rev. Robert Tabscott, Presbyterian minister in Des Peres, join forces to organize sourcing and delivery of perishable food. Known at first as the United Hunger Effort, the group also establishes a Food Stamp Hotline run by Lutheran Outreach Pantry. This soon evolves into a Hunger Hotline.

1981: Incorporation of Operation Food Search

Vintage phot of OFS food truck in front of Schnucks grocery store

May 13, 1981: Recognizing that hunger relief must be handled in a business-like manner, we are incorporated as Operation Search, a Not-For­Profit Corporation.

1981 $400,000 of food is distributed.


Volunteers posing in front of an Operation Food Search van

OFS distributes 200,000 lbs. of food each month, serving 106 pantries. The Hunger Hotline receives 1,957 calls.

1982 Good Samaritan Law

We help move forward a Good Samaritan Law in the Missouri State Legislature. Product liability on food usage is removed from our food suppliers, opening the way for new food donors to give without worry.

1984: Bruce Springsteen Support

Newspaper article about Bruce Springsteen

Springsteen holds a concert in St. Louis and personally donates $10,000. He makes a personal appeal on behalf of Operation Food Search to those in attendance.


Vintage photo of food being delivered to Operation Food Search headquarters

OFS leases space at 710 Hanley Industrial Court with 500 sq. ft. of office space and 1,100 sq. ft. of warehouse space.


Truck delivering food to Operation Food Search headquarters

A 5-year lease is negotiated for a 3,000 sq. ft. of space on Dielman Rock Island Drive.

1988 Milestone

Vintage photo of operation food search delivering food

$8 million in food is distributed!


1993: The 1st Annual Golf Tournament

Golfers gathered at local tournament

Our 1st Annual Golf Tournament is held at Hidden Valley, successfully raising $20,250 after expenses.


OFS moves to a 5,000 square foot building. $10 million worth of food is distributed.

1996: Sunny Schaefer

Sunny Schaefer working for Operation Food Search, 1996

Sunny Schaefer becomes executive director.

1997: April Showers

Vintage photos of young Operation Food Search volunteers

The Girl Scouts’ annual drive for personal care items begins.

1996: First Empty Bowls Event

Black and White picture of Empty Bowls Event

High school and college students create hand-made ceramic bowls for an auction benefiting OFS. The event is held at Plaza Frontenac.


OFS hires its first registered dietitian to address nutrition education.

2000 Warners’ Warm-Up

Volunteer talking with children

NFL champion Kurt Warner and his wife Brenda start an annual winter coat drive benefiting OFS.


Teacher educates her students on importance of nutrition

OFS teams up with Share Our Strength to launch our Nutrition Education program.


The Federal Reserve Bank food drive collects more than 100,000 cans of food. Food drives continue to be a crucial part of OFS donations, now bringing in $1million worth of food a year.

2005: One Million Dollar Mark

Cash donations exceed one million dollars for the first time. OFS has 12 full-time employees.

2005: Chocolate Chip Cookie Day

Cardinals players Reggie Jackson, David Eckstein and Barry Weinberg greet fans, sign autographs and sell Schnucks chocolate chip cookies for this annual event, which began in 2002.

2006: 25th Anniversary

Volunteer posing with a "Why I Give" poster

More than a thousand volunteers donate 10,000 hours to help OFS in its mission to heal hunger.

2006: Operation Backpack

Group of students gathered at local school

OFS begins providing weekly sacks of kid-friendly, shelf-stable food to get students through the weekend when school meals are not available.

2008: Furniture and Metal to Food initiative

Volunteer being interviewed in front of Operation Food Search Van

OFS board member Skip Spielberg helps create a new initiative: when businesses remodel or relocate, excess furniture and scrap metal are removed and proceeds go to OFS.

The program is now known as Repurpose for a Purpose.

2010: Tomato Explosion Campaign

Tomato Explosion logo; a campaign dedication to food insecurity relief

Sponsored by Feast magazine, the inaugural Tomato Explosion campaign challenges local chefs to create tomato-focused dishes and raises nearly $8,000 for OFS.

2010: Purses for Pantries

People gathered in recognition of a local banquet

This springtime event featuring both silent and live auction items consisting of everyone’s favorite accessory–the purse! The annual luncheon raises $25,000.


Group of young volunteers donating food at a local library

In the 2012-13 school year, more than 110,000 backpacks are provided to students for weekend meal assistance.

2013: Summer Meals

Group of children gathered around an Operation Food Search van

OFS pilots its program to distribute healthy food to kids when school meals are not available.

2015: Child Nutrition Programs

Two kids eating lunch at a local library

223,000 backpacks are provided.

72,000 summer meals are distributed.

33,000 after-school meals help kids stay focused and active through the afternoon and into the evening.

2016: The Campaign to End Childhood Hunger

The campaign in the St. Louis Region raises $7 million toward a new OFS facility and expanded programs and services.


Front of Operation Food Search Headquarters

OFS moves to a state-of-the-art distribution and nutrition education center (67,000 square foot facility).


Kristen Wild; executive director for OFS

Long-time Executive Director Sunny Schaefer retires; Kristen Wild becomes the new executive director of OFS.

2019: 40th Anniversary of Dierbergs Partnership

Dierberg's CEO accepting award

Over the past 41 years, Dierbergs Markets has donated nearly $65 million worth of product and nearly $1 million in monetary contributions to OFS. Their annual register campaign for us, which began as “Hunger Never Takes a Vacation” in 1991 and collected $19,000, has grown to become multiple annual fundraising campaigns and in 2020 alone raised $278,428.98. In 2020 Dierbergs donated more than $2.1 million worth of food, which equates to a total of 1,272,957 pounds.

2019: 40th Anniversary of OFS partnership with Schnuck Markets

CEO of Shnuck's CEO in commemoration of 40 year partnership

Since 1979, Schnucks has donated more than $172 million worth of food to Operation Food Search. In addition, Schnucks generates thousands of additional dollars in donations each year through register campaigns, vendor campaigns, Shop Out Hunger and other collaborations. A Schnucks executive serves on the OFS executive board. In 2020, Schnucks donates $12,600,303 in food.

2019: OFS Facility Flood

Construction process following flood

A broken water main results in several inches of standing water; However, there are only 1 ½ days disruption to food distribution.

2020: Global Pandemic

Operation food search tent at a local market

OFS shifts to emergency response mode, adapting food distribution to safely provide more than a million additional meals to the community in the first six months of the pandemic alone.

2020: Launch of Missouri School Breakfast Website

2020: Launch of Missouri School Breakfast Website

Operation Food Search works to increase breakfast participation across the state and to showcase innovative approaches and best practices for school breakfast so that kids can start the day ready to learn.

2021: Completion of Fresh Rx Pilot Program

Fresh campaign logo for Operation Food Search

Fresh Rx programs assert that food is medicine and seek to improve access to food, nutrition and health for families. In the pilot Fresh Rx: Nourishing Healthy Starts program, 75 healthy babies are born, with 90% at full-term.

2021: Fortieth Anniversary

Operation Food Search Logo

With an operating budget of $36,329,553 and 35 Employees, OFS is continuing to meet the increased need for food caused by the pandemic while also addressing the root causes of food insecurity. We invite you to join us by learning more on our FACTS page.