Panera Bread Foundation Celebrates One Year Anniversary of Panera Cares Launch

The Panera Bread Foundation, Inc. is celebrating the one year anniversary of its nonprofit community cafe concept, Panera Cares. The initiative launched on May 16, 2010, in Clayton, MO, and has since expanded to two other locations in Dearborn, MI, and Portland, OR.

At Panera Cares, people are encouraged to take what they need and donate their fair share. There are no prices or cash registers, only suggested donation levels and donation bins. At the end of the day, these cafes are not about offering a hand out. They’re about offering a hand up to those who need it.

“When the Foundation launched the Panera Cares concept one year ago (under the name Saint Louis Bread Co. Cares), we were not sure how people would respond. In many ways, these cafes are a test of humanity. We didn’t know if people would help each other or take advantage,” said Ron Shaich, President of the Panera Bread Foundation and Executive Chairman of Panera, LLC. “Twelve months later, we’re proud to say that people have really stepped up and are helping us achieve our goal ensuring everyone who needs a meal gets one — whether or not they can afford it.”

Shaich estimates that about 20% of visitors to the cafes leave more than the suggested amount, 20% leave less and 60% leave the suggested donation. On average, each cafe serves 3,500 to 4,000 customers per week and generates about 75-80% of the retail value of the food.

“If we continue at the level of donation we’ve been experiencing, we should be able to cover all of our costs and sustain our community cafes for the long term,” Shaich said. “To put it simply, these are nonprofit community cafes of shared responsibility. They will only survive and self-sustain if people in those communities do their part.”

As part of its commitment to the local community, the first location in Clayton, MO — called Saint Louis Bread Co. Cares — recently launched a job training program for at-risk youth. Working with Covenant House Missouri, the Panera Cares Cafe developed a transitional job training program designed to offer useful skill development and new opportunities to inspire positive personal and professional growth.

Three individuals recently completed 12 weeks of job skills training and life skills training classes. They graduated from the program on Wednesday, May 4, 2011. All three are expected to go on to employment at local Panera Bread bakery-cafes.

The relationship between Panera Cares and Covenant House was born out of a shared desire to make a difference in the local community, by taking action and forming relationships with the people who comprise the shared neighborhood.

“Working together with Covenant House seemed like a natural fit, as we both aim to provide a leg up to the less fortunate members of our community,” said Kate Antonacci, Project Manager of Panera Cares.

“By helping the youth develop self-esteem, accountability and independent living skills, our hope was to provide participants with the foundation needed to begin a professional career. And so far, the program has done just that.”

The Foundation hopes to launch similar job training programs at the other community cafes in Dearborn, MI, and Portland, OR, this summer.

Panera Cares is a program run by the Panera Bread Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. The Foundation accepts contributions through cash donations received in donation boxes located in Panera Bread bakery-cafes located throughout the United States, as well as in connection with its community cafes operating under the name Panera Cares. Panera Cares Cafes exist to make a difference by offering the Panera Bread experience with dignity to all — those who can afford it, those who need a hand up, and everyone in between.

Covenant House was founded 38 years ago with the mission to help homeless youth. Today, Covenant House is the largest privately-funded agency in the Americas providing food, shelter, immediate crisis care, and essential services to homeless, throwaway, and runaway kids. Covenant House not only offers an immediate safe harbor to homeless kids, they also strive to move each young person forward down the path to an independent adulthood, free from the risk of future homelessness.