Closed Doors, Open Hearts

Closed Doors, Open Hearts

Panera Bread® bakery-cafes don’t close for many calendar days. But when they do, many of their associates continue to serve.

Panera Bread associates take pride in their service to customers while on the job. And for many, service continues beyond the bakery-cafe doors. Here’s how three associates give back during the holidays.

Sharing the Joy of Toys

In March 2010, leukemia took the life of Christie Glaeser’s niece Morgan before her second birthday. Christie spent time visiting Morgan at The Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City and noticed there were always toys for the patients and their siblings to play with.

“Even if kids are fighting cancer or have had a heart transplant, they still have moments where they want to be a child and play,” says Christie, 36, the director of human resources and training for Original Bread, a Panera franchisee with 34 locations in Kansas and Missouri. Upon a little investigation, she discovered two things about the hospital’s stash of toys: they are all donated, and the toy supply runs low at certain times of the year.

So in 2010 Christie decided to start a holiday drive called Operation Morgan’s Gift, named after her niece. She put together a list of acceptable donations, such as puzzles, books, and personal care items, and asked her associates at Panera to step up to help. They have been providing a steady supply ever since.

In 2012 they collected $15,000 worth of toys, which took six carloads to deliver to The Children’s Mercy Hospital. While Christie can’t be there when the toys are distributed, she knows that they are loved and well-used. And she knows this: “The hospital has told us that they count on our donation every year because they start running low around the holidays,” she says. “Our donations help hundreds of kids that come through the hospital throughout the year.”

Feeding a Need

For Meg Hillbery, organizing a holiday food drive is personal—it was the kindness of strangers that helped her get through the holidays when she was a child.

“Growing up I received food, clothes, and school supplies from local churches and teachers,” recalls Meg, 23, a general manager at Panera in North Ridgeville, Ohio. “It affected me so greatly that I wanted to give someone else that feeling of knowing that there’s always hope.”

In 2012 Meg reached out to a regular Panera customer, a pastor, to put together a list of 10 families who were down on their luck and probably wouldn’t have a holiday dinner. Meg hung a sign in the back of the store to encourage her staff to participate. She herself used her bonus to purchase 10 turkeys.

“The most rewarding part of the whole drive,” she says, “was personally handing the baskets to the families and receiving hugs and thank-yous in response. Some people even cried.” Her goal for 2013? Double the gifts to feed 20 families.

Tradition of Breakfast with Santa

As a child, Katarina Mihalik attended the annual Breakfast with Santa celebration at Grace Lutheran Church in Central Islip, New York. Only when she got older did she realize how much that event helped her church—the money raised each year funds its Little Lambs Preschool.

In 2008 Katarina, 19, a cashier at Panera in nearby Bay Shore, New York, joined with her father’s family to take over organizing the event. The family does all the shopping, cooking, and serving. On the first Saturday of December, Breakfast with Santa offers a buffet of eggs, pancakes, sausage, and more for a small admission fee. Of course, Santa is on hand to take pictures and give children small gifts. Raffles and a 50-50 drawing help to raise money too.

Aside from supporting the preschool program, the event is very beneficial to the community because it creates memories and a sense of togetherness, Katarina says, “and it encourages families to be involved.”