'Tomato Explosion' offers deals at restaurants, tackles hunger in St. Louis

'Tomato Explosion' offers deals at restaurants, tackles hunger in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS – More than 100 restaurants across St. Louis city and county are cooking up specials aimed at attacking a hunger problem in the area that is more severe than most realize.  The “Tomato Explosion” is an annual July fundraiser for which restaurants cook up a special dish, then share the proceeds with Operation Food Search.

“It’s about coming together, eating great food and being able to give back, and the restaurants really get behind it,” Operation Food Search’s Mark Taylor said.

When you talk to people from Operation Food Search, they usually start you off with a set of numbers: one in five.  They report that one in every five children in the St. Louis area suffers from what they call food insecurity.

“They don’t know exactly where their next meal is coming from. Right here. It’s really an impactful number that really resonates,” Taylor said. “It almost leaves you speechless, and to think that right here at home that’s this big of an issue, it’s heartbreaking.  We want every kid to have the opportunity to reach their full potential, and it’s difficult to do that on an empty stomach.”

Many area restaurateurs are equally shocked by the fact that what seems like a Third World problem is this severe just a few miles from their kitchens.

“It’s upsetting because you don’t really see it,” Five Star Burger General Manager Dave Zitko said. “You’re driving through town and don’t realize that it’s that big of an issue. It makes you want to do something about it.”

What they’re doing at all of these restaurants is having a “Tomato Explosion.” Each participating restaurant has come up with a tomato-themed dish based on the Food Search logo and is donating a chunk of the proceeds from that dish to Operation Food Search for the entire month of July.

It’s the biggest fundraiser for the group, which says it feeds 200,000 people every month.

“They pledge a certain amount from each time that dish is ordered during the month of July, so anywhere from $2 to $5,” Taylor said.  “So, they tally it all up at the end and send us a check, and we compile all that and put it to use to get meals in the hands of kids and families.”

They use the money to stock their warehouse shelves every day for the many food pantries they serve, to fill backpacks with food on weekends during the school year for underprivileged children, and even teach parents how to cook healthy meals that will save them some money in the process.

It’s all supplemented by this July-long fundraiser as families go out to eat, area restaurants get a few extra people at their tables, and Operation Food Search tries to put a dent in a hunger problem most agree should not exist, but does, right here in St. Louis.

“They’re working so hard to make ends meet, and it’s just not right,” Taylor said of the families they serve. “It’s not fair. We need to do everything we can in this community to come together to end this, because it’s just not right.”

More information about Operation Food Search can be found on its website.