Bryant Van Beckum loves to put smiles on people's faces. But he also loves to scare them.
That’s why Van Beckum is perfectly in his element when Halloween comes to CALL Primrose, a non-profit organization providing grocery assistance to thousands of San Mateo County families. It's where Van Beckum spends most of his time.
Humble and soft-spoken, Van Beckum began volunteering at the drop-in food pantry nearly three years ago. It started with one day a week, but he loved it so much he’s there five days a week now. Four days as a volunteer, and one day as the organization’s volunteer coordinator.
“I like the people,” Van Beckum said. “Both the volunteers and the clients. They’re all very nice.”
Van Beckum has a passion for service, but he also has a passion for Halloween. So now, when October 1 rolls around, he turns the food pantry into a haunted house.
“I just love Halloween,” Van Beckum said. “My brother and I used to have a Halloween party every year for about 20 years.”
He’s got so many decorations he has to rent a storage locker during the year just to hold them all. And his decorations aren’t of the cheap dollar store variety – most of them move, light up and make creepy noises. When they’re all turned on, it’s hard to hear above the sounds of screams and cackling emanating from all corners of the building.
“All the clients love it,” Van Beckum said. “They want to see it every year. They always ask when I’m going to start decorating.”
One client was taking photos of the decorations, a wide grin spread across her face. Another, half-joking, said she was going to have a heart attack.
The center also passes out Halloween goodie bags for the kids. The agency’s executive director, Terri Boesch, joked she’s had to run after kids, teddy bear in hand, when she sees them retreating in fright.
“He really has a passion for the clients that come here and he does it for them,” Boesch said. “And the clients love it. We have a bag of stuffed toys for the scared children.”
Boesch said the decorations bring a sense of normalcy and fun to families who may be going through tough times.
“Nobody wants to be in a situation where they have to come and pick up groceries, but we want to make it the best experience possible.”
Boesch said recent years in the Bay Area have been hard on families. They’re often forced to make tough choices between paying for housing or putting food on the table.
“Hold on to your housing,” Boesch tells them. “Pay the rent first, then come to us.”
Boesch said the food pantry, located in Burlingame, serves more than 25,000 individuals per year in San Mateo County. They also provide free snacks to local schools for the kids whose families can’t necessarily afford three meals per day.
For Van Beckum, the holiday spirit doesn’t end after Halloween. By the time he brings everything back to his storage locker, it will be just in time to start decorating for Christmas.
For information on how to donate or volunteer at CALL Primrose, visit their website.