Metro-East News

These officers serve the public daily. At this event, they’ll serve you a free lunch, too.

O’Fallon police officers will become servers Thursday at Texas Roadhouse to raise money for Special Olympics.
O’Fallon police officers will become servers Thursday at Texas Roadhouse to raise money for Special Olympics. File photo

O’Fallon’s Texas Roadhouse will be filled with police officers next Thursday — but they won’t be charging anyone.

On July 27, the steakhouse will host its eighth Free Lunch event, where cops will be the servers and all donations will go directly to Special Olympics Illinois’ Area 12, which serves Southwestern Illinois, including St. Clair and Madison counties.

From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., customers will receive a free lunch consisting of a pulled pork sandwich, a side, bread with butter and a soft drink. Patrons are asked to leave a tip for the police officers serving them, and 100 percent of those proceeds will be donated.

And this year, the stakes are higher than ever.

O’Fallon Police Department Detective Brian Gimpel said out of all the participating Texas Roadhouse locations in the state, O’Fallon keep coming in second place. This year, he hopes they reach that coveted first place prize, meaning they will have raised the most amount of money for Special Olympics.

“Naperville keeps coming in first place because they have more target audience, so we’ve got to knock them off their pedestal,” Gimpel said.

The O’Fallon-Shiloh Texas Roadhouse, located at 1412 Central Park Circle in O’Fallon, has raised an average of $8,000 to $9,000 in the past. This year, Gimpel is aiming to break the $10,000 mark.

More importantly, however, Gimpel said this is an opportunity for the community to come together and support a worthy cause. A few athletes who will be participating in Special Olympics will be at the event as well.

“People get a chance to better understand Special Olympics and see the athletes aren’t really different like they may have thought,” Gimpel said.

Charles Jones, who has been a manager at Texas Roadhouse for three years, said he and the restaurant love giving back to the community through events such as this one.

“We support Special Olympics big time, and we like to do things for the community,” Jones said. “We’ve been doing it for eight years, and we’re lucky enough to be a Roadhouse that has one of the biggest crowds. It’s going to be a great turnout.”

Jones said in addition to donating all the food and making merchandise such as T-shirts and hats for the event, they also throw in a monetary donation as well.

Jones added it’s an important event for Special Olympics to receive the respect and support it needs for its events, which will start in a few months.

Gimpel said the event is a great chance for citizens and police officers to hang out in a more relaxed environment, which helps both parties. People feel more comfortable talking with police officers when they’re not working, and it opens up the opportunity for more communication, he said. For the officers, the positive atmosphere can also be a much needed break.

“We’re so used to seeing all this negativity, and it can bring you back up because the athletes are always in a positive mood,” Gimpel said. “For example, there’s this guy Tony who comes out, and he’ll be out there with a smile on his face and be out there all day long.”

Lunches can also be ordered to workplaces, and Gimpel said they’ve already had nearly 300 orders placed for next Thursday by businesses in the area.

“You can’t come to one of these events and not have a good time,” Gimpel said.

Kaley Johnson: 618-239-2526, @KaleyJohnson6