ST. CHARLES – It is unusual for an organization to recognize an individual leading a ministry, but that is what happened when SSM Health recognized Stan Norton, Missions Director, and the First Baptist Church of St. Charles for their service during the COVID-19 pandemic. The award listed Norton as the Health Care Hero.
“We have a wonderfully generous church,” Norton said. “A couple of our members work for SSM Health and told us of the conditions that healthcare workers endured during the height of the pandemic, and our members said, ‘What can we do?’”
With that question, Norton approached the hospital and offered food for the workers. “They seemed to think that would be a wonderful contribution to the effort,” he said. “Beginning in April of last year, we covered two shifts at a time at the hospital by serving Chick-fil-A sandwiches. We alternated so that all three shifts were covered.”
But, by May, Norton and the church decided to expand the ministry. They wanted to have an impact on all the first responders in the area. In addition to the two SSM hospitals, they reached out to the two Barnes hospitals in the area. Then they expanded to the three police departments in the area.
“We wanted to help all of the first responders,” he continued. “They were putting it all on the line while we were locked up in our homes. We wanted to show our appreciation.”
The numbers tell the story; during the two-month time of Chick-fil-A, the church distributed 1,585 sandwiches, 1080 Granola bars, 500 McDonald sausage sandwiches and 60 dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
Buddy Perstrope, senior pastor of FBC St. Charles, agreed that this was an effective ministry. “Stan spearheaded this ministry to make a difference in the community. Our mission is to make a difference for Jesus.”
The first responder outreach dovetailed with the regular ministry of the church. “Our Connect ministry is a regular outreach of the church,” Norton said.
“Before the pandemic, we were providing backpacks for school children identified by our area school district,” he said. “Some of the children needed the extra help, and during the summer we provided monthly boxes of food.”
“During the pandemic, we started a drive-through with the families on our list from the school district,” he explained, “and we are going to continue that practice.”
Currently, the church is serving 67 families which is about 254 people. Last year, 130 of those were children under 18.
“I know that when the children start back to school,” Norton said, “that number will increase.”
Partnership is a key word for Norton and the congregation. “We partner with several ministries to obtain the food that we give out,” he said. “Even the St. Louis Food Bank provides some of the food. They like that we work with a targeted group through the school district. In addition, members of the congregation donate food or designated offerings which gives us the opportunity to purchase meat, milk, eggs and other perishable items right before the distribution. We are even able to share food to a couple former members who have a ministry to the homeless. We give them food and they are face-to-face with the homeless.”
Norton also said that as part of the food distribution, they find a way to share Jesus. “We don’t want this to be only sharing food, we want to share Jesus.”
According to Norton and Perstrope, the church has given Bibles out with the food. “In addition, the staff includes a letter outlining the gospel, and they are on hand to greet those coming by for food.”
“We used to do a community dinner before the pandemic,” Perstrope said, “and that made it easy to have conversations. Now, we share with them as they go through the line. We also let them know we are available plus we give instructions on how to listen to my podcast.”
The award recognized Norton and the church for exceptional generosity, compassion, and partnership. All qualities that describe their total Connect ministry.