GREEN BAY — Darkness fills the morning sky Oct. 4 as Craig Beyl and Fred Fleischman hop into their white and blue delivery truck outside of Paul’s Pantry. Their first destination: Festival Foods in De Pere, where two pallets of various produce and two shopping carts filled with bakery goods await pickup.
It’s a regular run for the two volunteers, who help keep the legacy of pantry founder, Leo Frigo, alive. Last year, Paul’s Pantry volunteers put in more than 90,000 volunteer hours, making it one of Green Bay’s most successful community service programs.
Beyl knows well the story of how Frigo started Paul’s Pantry in 1984. After retiring as president of Frigo Cheese, Frigo, whom Beyl describes as one of his heroes, wanted to spend his remaining years helping people in need.
Frigo’s plan was to start a food pantry with goods donated by local grocery stores and other vendors. At the time, no such model, based on collecting unsaleable but still edible food, existed. Frigo set out to meet area grocers and share his vision. Among the grocers Frigo visited was the store manager of the now-defunct Cub Foods Green Bay West. The manager’s name: Craig Beyl.
Beyl, a member of Green Bay’s St. Bernard Parish, shared Frigo’s passion for helping others. He recalled a young boy who was caught shoplifting at Cub Foods. His crime was stealing a loaf of bread and peanut butter. Beyl believed hunger, not crime, was the boy’s motivation and he believed Frigo’s plan had merit.
“Leo used to say, ‘Food is a basic necessity. If we can provide them with the basic necessity of food, then they can use their time and resources to better their lives,’” said Beyl. Cub Foods was the first grocery store in Green Bay to donate their unsaleable food to Paul’s Pantry.
“Most stores (assumed that) if they donated to the pantry, then those people wouldn’t come in and buy groceries,” said Beyl. “My thought was, those people aren’t going to buy groceries anyway, so let’s try to help them.”
Beyl decided to get other grocers on board.
“I belonged to a couple of grocers’ associations and started talking about the pantry,” said Beyl. “I gave Leo names of other people I knew in the industry. He was able to get almost all of the grocery stores in town” to donate unsaleable groceries.
Today, the list of grocery stores, convenience stores, vendors and specialty shops partnering with Paul’s Pantry is long, helping the pantry to stock 20,000 pounds of food on its shelves every day. The partnership has served as a model for other food pantries around the state.
After meeting Frigo, Beyl occasionally volunteered at Paul’s Pantry. It motivated him to become a regular volunteer when he retired from the grocery industry in 2013. Beyl recalled the time he met a man while distributing Christmas hams. The man, who had lost his job due to an injury and was struggling to feed his family, was nearly in tears knowing he now could provide a Christmas meal for his family.
Today, many senior citizens rely on the pantry for meals, he said. One senior citizen told Beyl that his pension plan went bankrupt. “Those situations happen and how do people respond? They need that help to bridge the gap,” he said.
Beyl, who along with wife of 45 years, Mary Ann, has two adult daughters and two grandchildren, credits his father, Irvin, with instilling in him a strong Catholic faith filled with compassion for others.
“I have had a blessed life — and part of my faith is, don’t judge people. Help people,” he said. “Coming down to the pantry here, I’ve gotten to know an awful lot of great people. … They’ve had some unfortunate circumstances, but don’t judge them.”
Like his mentor, Frigo, Beyl sees dignity in all who come to Paul’s Pantry.
“A lot of the workers are volunteers and recipients (of food),” he said. “If you, as a recipient, volunteer, you can get extra portions of food. Leo set that up to encourage people to volunteer. He wanted to preserve the dignity of people.”
Instead of just handing food recipients a bag of food, Paul’s Pantry is set up like a grocery store. “You go up and down the aisle and pick up what you want,” said Beyl.
After the stop at Festival Foods, Beyl and Fleischman, who has been a volunteer driver for Paul’s Pantry for three years, head to St. Norbert College to pick up frozen food items set aside for Paul’s Pantry. On their return trip to the pantry, the delivery truck crosses over the bridge that bears the name of Leo Frigo, who died Feb. 13, 2001, from injuries suffered in a car accident while delivering food to a shut-in.
Beyl reflects on the mission of Paul’s Pantry, putting it into perspective.
“You see the tragedy and devastation with the hurricanes and everybody is aware of that. It’s neighbor helping neighbor, trying to recover from that,” he said. “Hunger is a tragedy and a devastation to the families facing it. Paul’s Pantry is the neighbor helping neighbors in this area to get food.
“Hunger isn’t as recognizable as a major catastrophe as a hurricane because you don’t see it, but for the people who are facing it, it’s a real tragedy.”