Crystal Shensky, assistant manager of the Panera Bread bakery-cafe in Carlisle, PA

I’m The Face Of Hunger: Crystal’s Story

We see the statistics, but hunger isn’t about numbers. It’s about real lives, like this one.

“Crystal, could you void this transaction?” a cashier asked Crystal Shensky, assistant manager of the Panera Bread® bakery-cafe in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, one winter day in late 2012. At the counter stood a young woman whose credit card wasn’t working and who didn’t have any cash, and her lunch order was about to be canceled. “Instead I quietly paid for it myself,” Crystal says. “I told her, ‘Merry Christmas—pay it forward when you can.’ I would never, ever make somebody feel bad about not having enough money for food.”

That’s because Crystal, 30, has experienced the anxiety of food insecurity firsthand in her own life. At age 27 she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. After taking 12 weeks off from her former job for cancer therapy and to resolve treatment-related side effects, this mother of three had finally returned to work when her husband lost his job due to downsizing. “We were down to one income and facing big medical bills,” she says. “My husband was looking for jobs all over the place. Our budget was stretched so thin we didn’t know what to do sometimes.”

Finding Hope in Hunger

When their daughter needed dental work, a school nurse suggested the family contact a local social service agency that helps support families in South Central Pennsylvania in times of need. “That was a saving grace,” Crystal says. “We got help for our daughter and discovered we were eligible for help with groceries, with Christmas presents for our children. They made sure we were able to eat and that the kids were taken care of.”

Once a month, Crystal visited the agency’s food pantry. “We would pick our vegetables, pasta, rice, cereal, and a protein—chicken or beef,” she says. “You could put together healthy meals that way. It was a good feeling to put good food on the table for my two daughters and son.”

Bouncing Back—and Giving Back

The family’s situation has improved. Crystal’s husband received a scholarship for training as a commercial driver and now works full time. And she recently changed jobs—coming to Panera, where she feels good about the company’s commitment to fighting food insecurity in America. In November 2012, Crystal volunteered to organize and lead a group of Panera employees, managers, and customers who donated time at a local food bank. “We boxed up food, putting together enough to feed about 360 families,” she says. “That felt really good. It was heartwarming to see so many people come out to help.”

“I’m proud to be here at Panera,” Crystal says. “I’m proud that our customers give money every day to Feeding America by leaving donations in the boxes at checkout. I’m proud that our bakery-cafe donates unsold baked goods every day to organizations in our area that feed hungry people. And I’m proud to tell my story in order to raise awareness about this issue. I want people to know that it’s OK to ask for help when they need it and that it’s important to give to others when you can. Everybody has times of struggle and times when they can give back. I know that firsthand.”