The St. Louis County Police Department donated its remaining cache of more than a ton of nonperishable food items it received from supporters during the unrest in Ferguson to the St. Louis Area Foodbank on Monday.
Back in November, county police put out a call for donations of grab-and-go, hand-held snacks that officers could easily take with them to eat during long shifts. The department said people from across the St. Louis area and the country sent in hundreds of pounds of food.
The response was "overwhelming" and more than county police needed, said the department's social media coordinator Vera Culley. She said officers didn't want the food to go to waste, so they decided to "pay it forward" by donating the excess food to the Foodbank.
But she said she was surprised to learn exactly how many leftovers were donated to the Foodbank: about 2,800 pounds worth.
"To hear that that's how much stuff we had left over after meeting the officers' needs just goes to show you how much support there is for the police in the St. Louis area and how much we are willing to give back to that same community," she said.
Culley said the food donation is just one example of the county police's efforts to reach out into the community, but "the difference now is that everybody's watching." She said police have participated in 3-on-3 basketball games with high school students and "shop with a cop" programs, and recently gave out $100 bills during a Secret Santa event. But the department doesn't typically "broadcast what we're doing."
When asked if the food donation is something of an olive branch given recent community-police tensions, Culley said county police have always been involved.
"The mission is to remain engaged, not to become engaged," she said. "Yes, there has been a disconnect, the chief has talked about that. We've always talked about how we want to make sure that we are better connected with the community, so this is part of an ongoing effort, not just some way to extend an olive branch, per se. But it helps."
Culley said the Food Bank was the "obvious" choice for the donation because, as a centralized social service agency, it knows the needs of the community.