For those who struggle to afford warm and nutritious food there are very few options other than visiting soup kitchens. In May 2010, however, Panera Bread, also known as the Saint Louis Bread Co. in Missouri, opened the first location of its philanthropic arm, Panera Cares.
Now with four locations — St Louis, MO, Dearborn, MI, Porland, OR, and Lakeview, IL — and a fifth to open in the near future, Panera Cares uses a pay-what-you-can model to provide food for those who are unable to afford it.
Colleen Kincaid, the General Manager of the Dearborn location, explains that, “The first thing we do is just help those who may need a hand up, by offering them a meal. If somebody has food insecurity, they don’t have a refrigerator to go to, we’re just here as a place that they can come and make sure that they get fed.”
Rather than prices on menus and cash registers, there are suggested donations and orange boxes to collect the donations.
Those who enter a Panera Cares would be forgiven for thinking themselves in a regular Panera Bread café. Kincaid explains that, “Usually people are very familiar with Panera Bread so when people ask that question, they are asking why it’s not called Panera Bread.”
She goes on to say that, “It’s just like Panera Bread but we’re a nonprofit organization … We mean to emulate them, and look like them, and provide the same product and the same quality, dignified service, and all of those things.”
To ensure people understand the donation-based model as soon as they arrive, Kincaid explains that, “We have somebody in place that we call an ambassador because people tend to not know quite what we are. That person’s in place to explain what our mission is, to explain why we’re different.”
One such ambassador, JeriAnn Patino, loves the experience, “That’s the biggest joy of the day, is when somebody comes in and goes ‘really? Now if I didn’t have any money, I could get a meal?’ and I say, ‘absolutely.’”
Panera Cares donates the food they have left at the end of the day to organizations who will give it to those who need it. “We do have bread stations, unlike the regular Panera Bread. They can just come in, drop your share, and grab a loaf, and we can slice it for you,” says Associate Trainer, Todd Williamson. The bread is provided by some of the Panera Breads in the area and ensures that nothing is wasted where it can safely be given to those in need.
Panera Cares is helping the community through more than simply providing food. The Panera Cares internship job training program began in St Louis and was recently instituted in the Dearborn location.