Operation Food Search Executive Director Sunny Schaefer will retire Dec. 31 after 22 years at the nonprofit hunger-relief organization.

Operation Food Search provides food and nutrition education through a network of 330 community partners in 31 Missouri and Illinois counties.

Schaefer began as volunteer interim executive director in 1996, when it had a $400,000 budget and distributed 11 million pounds of food. Operation Food Search now has an annual operating budget of $37 million and distributes 3 million pounds of food monthly, officials said Tuesday.

The organization’s board has hired Cynthia Kohlbry of Executive Bridge to search for a new executive director, Operation Food Search board Chairperson Lisa Pelikan said in a release, adding that she expects to announce Schaefer’s successor in the near future.

“Sunny is an industry game changer who devoted years of expertise and hard work to our mission of ending childhood hunger,” Pelikan said in a statement. “She has built a strong foundation and legacy, and we truly appreciate how far she has taken us under her outstanding leadership and guidance.”

Among the partnerships and campaigns Schaefer developed while leading Operation Food Search were: April Showers, a partnership with the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri that has collected over 18 million personal care items since 1998; Warners’ Warm Up, through which Operation Food Search distributes donated winter coats to those in need; Cooking Matters, nutrition education classes for food bank clients; Operation Backpack, which provides weekend meals to children who might otherwise go hungry; and Summer Food Service Program, a USDA-funded effort to feed children when school is not in session.

She also oversaw the Campaign to End Childhood Hunger in the St. Louis Region, a capital campaign that raised $7 million, of which $5.2 million went to buy and renovate Operation Food Search’s 67,000-square-foot headquarters and fund its programming.

“It was an honor to serve this outstanding agency where we make a difference in every single life we touch,” Schaefer said in a statement. “I am proud to have played a part in Operation Food Search’s continuous growth, and I have the utmost confidence that our leadership team will ensure ongoing success in the near future and beyond.”

By Diana Barr – Associate Editor, St. Louis Business Journal
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