Pastor Chuck Kish wears many hats.
In addition to his baseball cap, Kish is known to be the senior pastor of Bethel Assembly of God Church, a chaplain to several local first responder agencies, a stand one resident at Panera Bread in Carlisle, and most recently the founder of a new ministry dedicated to giving back to frontline workers.
This new ministry, called Stock Their Cupboards, began about a month ago when Kish began using community donations to stock the cupboards of local first responder agencies’ break rooms with healthy, take-out options for their staff.
Kish said many first responders face high call volumes, which increases stress and reduces the time they have to eat, so it’s not uncommon for them to miss breakfast and sometimes lunch the same day. Stock Their Shelves ensures that when responders return to the station, even if only for a few minutes, they are greeted with a kitchen full of healthy options to support them.
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“Food and first responders are like peanut butter and jelly,” Kish said.
So far, Stock Their Cupboards has provided food for Cumberland Goodwill EMS and the Carlisle Police Station. According to Kish, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office and North Middleton Police are next in a growing list of agencies that Stock Their Cupboards hopes to reach. Kish hopes to expand this list to include hospitals and even day cares one day with other churches participating.
“Any church can stand up and take this on,” Kish said. “My goal in coming out is for other churches to dream.”
Serve those who serve
First responders from both locations who have already been contacted by Stock Their Cupboards expressed their gratitude for being the recipients of community service.
“It shows that the community is still with us, especially as we run some of our higher call volume days and feel like we’re spinning our wheels,” said Nathan Harig, Deputy Chief at Cumberland Goodwill EMS. “It helps provide additional validation for the work we do. It’s great to see our patients improve and it’s great to see the community supporting the sacrifices we make when we answer these calls.
Edward Martin, public safety coordinator for the Carlisle Police Department, agreed.
“This is a very generous offer for all of my frontline service workers who are constantly on the go and often find themselves eating on the go,” Martin said. “These donations are important because they show an appreciation for our work and dedication, but also show the love and kindness of the community we serve.”
Kish said each agency receives about $300 worth of healthy food, purchased and dropped off by himself and Anita Vonlumm, whom Kish calls his “partner in crime” at the department. He said that even though the healthier products cost more, knowing that they were purchased intentionally is like a “tight hug” from the community.
“When you do healthier things, it makes them feel better,” Kish said, though he admitted that Stock Their Cupboards sometimes throw a box of Pop-Tarts here and there.
According to Kish, the value of fully stocked cabinets is more than the average person could understand, and he would know it. Serving as a chaplain for first responder agencies put Kish in what he calls “a front row seat to the greatest show on earth, but it’s not a great show.”
“I do,” Kish said. “I am with them. I see him. I feel it. I hear it.”
Passion vs Appeal
Although Stocking Their Cupboards is new, Kish said the mission to nurture the community is not.
“There’s spiritual nourishment and physical nourishment and everything is important,” Kish said. “So we’ve been doing spiritual food for decades.”
Spiritual nourishment, according to Kish, has eternal value and involves sharing the Bible’s message with first responders and helping them do what they do best for longer.
“There’s a lifespan on first responders just because they wear themselves out,” Kish said. “Put yourself in the shoes of the person who is called upon to keep people alive. It’s wreaking havoc.
Kish thinks this toll helps people distinguish a passion from a calling.
“Passion can wane, passions come and go,” Kish said. “I’m in the mood today, I’m not tomorrow. Someone hurt you, you got out of there. One call, you keep coming back.
And for a first responder to do what it does, it takes a call. Amid the stress and pressure to save lives, Kish said there is one question that first responders keep coming back to:
“Is the mission greater than the sacrifice? As long as you say yes, you will continue,” Kish said.
Stand One Chronicles
Kish has story after story of the opportunities he has to “feed” community members, especially first responders, with this spiritual nourishment, and each one is as lively as he is.
Many of these stories come from Carlisle Panera Bread’s booth one at 40 Noble Blvd., a location Kish has dubbed his “satellite office.”
Kish can be found in Stand One most days, interacting with first responders who stop by for a cup of coffee as well as members of the community.
He said his church, Bethel Assembly of God, had provided him with a “lavish” office, but he only received about five visitors there a day. At Panera, Kish said 600 hungry people walk through those doors every day.
Through his satellite office, Kish said he sees first responders who come to believe in God. He spoke of a man who served on the front lines for his community, but also faced many challenges in his private life and marriage.
Kish said the man approached booth one with the divorce in mind and the papers ready, and as they were talking, Kish told him about a power greater than that man. Kish said he went to pour a cup of coffee and when he returned he asked the man if he wanted to accept Christ into his life. The man said yes.
“Since then the divorce papers are off the table, they’re together, they’re doing extremely well,” Kish said.
Kish pointed out how close this man was to leaving his post.
“He was a first responder that this could have ended, and he’s a person, if he had stopped, this town would have suffered a huge loss,” Kish said.
Another stand one story came a few weeks after Kish responded to a scene as an EMS chaplain. In October 2018, a 15-year-old boy ended his life prematurely. Kish arrived at the scene and walked into chaos, a scene he described as “so horrific, it was going to end the career of one particular first responder, it was so serious”.
Two weeks later, the deceased boy’s grandfather walked into Panera Bread and the first thing Kish noticed about him was the anger of a man who had strayed from God years ago and had just gone through the trauma of losing her grandson.
“I was going to bring up fishing to defuse him because he was angry, and all of a sudden the power of God comes over him,” Kish said.
He said with a chuckle that the man started to back off and said he had feelings of joy and hope. Kish said he was starting to feel the same things.
“I said, ‘Would you like to dedicate your life to the Lord again?’ And he says, ‘Yes!’ said Kish.
The man’s story does not end there. The story was published in full on Assemblies of God website.
If Kish has clarified one thing, it is that this story, this ministry, this mission does not concern him. In fact, he said he didn’t care if his name was attached to it or not.
“If it was just me without God, I’d be done; I would be completely exhausted by now,” Kish said. “All I know is for me, as long as I’m in ministry for the rest of my life, I’ll try to connect every pain point in this town.”
Kish said he also doesn’t want Stock Their Cupboards to be about Bethel’s Assembly of God, saying they’re just one of 89 Christian churches in the “greater community” of Carlisle.
“I want people to see and be motivated,” Kish said. “It has to come from the community. They can do it and feel good.
Anyone interested in donating to Stock Their Cupboards can drop off Walmart, Giant, Aldi or Karns gift cards at Bethel Assembly of God at 1412 Holly Pike in Carlisle. Gift cards instead of cash and food donations are preferred so Stock Their Cupboards can manually select healthy foods to donate to first responders, along with an occasional box of Pop-Tarts, strawberry or otherwise.
Maddie Seiler is a reporter for The Sentinel and cumberlink.com covering Carlisle and Newville. You can contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at: @SeilerMadalyn