First Lady Tonette Walker

St. Joe’s founder honored by Wisconsin first lady Tonette Walker

By Megan Nicolai of the Appleton Post Crescent
Thursday, January 31, 2013

Most employees get a cake at their retirement party. Tom Schiltz, founder of the 30-year-old St. Joseph Food Program, received a surprise visit from the first lady of Wisconsin.

Tonette Walker, wife of Gov. Scott Walker, presented Schiltz with a Wisconsin Heroes Award for his work providing free meals for Fox Cities families in need. The food pantry provides meals to roughly 1,000 families each week.

“I was just in shock,” Schiltz said of the recognition. “I just couldn’t believe it. It’s just something I’ve been doing for 30 years.”

Karen Ziemke, the food program’s development director, said Schiltz’s passion to help others led her to nominate him for the award. Schiltz still hand-delivers food to families in need, she said.

“He’s very deserving of this award,” Ziemke said. “This is a great example of what can be done on the private level to move Wisconsin forward, to help our local communities.”

A Wisconsin Heroes Award is given to a Wisconsin resident each month to recognize “heroic and voluntary efforts ... to make the state a better place.”

“It’s really neat to be around this (and) see all the action going on,” Tonette Walker said. “The fact that this is being done with no money at all from taxpayers — this is just a wonderful man and community and organization.”

Schiltz said he was inspired to create the food program after hearing more than 400 workers would be laid off at an Appleton company and seeing a field full of produce that would yield good food — much of which would go to waste.

He began seeking donations from family, friends, members of his church and the local business community to start a food pantry.
“It just goes to show people that one idea that someone has can turn into something that’s so vital,” said Monica Clare, the food program’s executive director. “If he hadn’t gone through with that idea, we’d never be here.”

In the beginning, Schiltz gathered food for poor families on his own, adjusting his schedule around a full-time job, Clare said. Schiltz said he almost quit after four months, but eventually members of the community stepped in and the program took off.

“A great idea is just a great idea unless someone takes a hold of it and makes it work,” Schiltz said. “There are a lot of beautiful people making this thing go.”

Lori Seeke, who worked with Schiltz for seven years, said she was deeply inspired by his sense of giving.

“He’s just so generous of a spirit,” Seeke said. “The fact that he thinks of everyone first before himself, the fact that he came up with the idea for this program — he’s an awesome man.”

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