Virginia Tech band

Marching On

In Blacksburg, Virginia, a Panera Bread gets in step with the Virginia Tech band to honor a fallen student.

It all started with a baritone player — a friendly, smart, hardworking kid named Ryan Clark, who made good grades and spent his free time helping others. As a triple major in English, psychology, and biology at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Ryan volunteered for community service projects like helping underprivileged kids in Atlanta and building homes for migrant workers in rural Virginia. Sadly, in 2007, Ryan was killed in the campus shooting that took the lives of 32 of his fellow students and teachers.

His friends in the Marching Virginians (as the band is known) were devastated, and determined to honor Ryan’s memory by working with Community Housing Partners to build a home for a local family in need. The only catch? Before they could hammer the first nail, they needed to raise $40,000.

Band director Dave McKee picks up the story: “Out of the blue, I got a phone call from a Lauren Perpetua, who said that Panera Bread was opening a new bakery-cafe in Blacksburg, and they wanted to partner with us on a community-service project. I thought, ‘Well, an angel has landed and turned around our little fund-raising project. They gave us the momentum we needed.’”

Lauren is the marketing manager of the Blue Ridge Bread and Delta Dough franchise groups that operate 13 Panera Bread bakery-cafes in Virginia and Tennessee. She and her team got right to work on a grand-opening party that doubled as a fund-raising event. “We invited all the movers and shakers in Blacksburg,” she recalls. “Dinner was on us, and a 30-piece band provided the entertainment. It blew everyone away. We asked our guests to donate to the project, and we matched their gifts dollar for dollar. At the end of the evening, we presented the band with a check for $6,000.”

As work progressed on the house, Panera Bread delivered fresh sandwiches and baked goods to the construction site for the hungry workers, and also catered the dedication ceremony.

“Throughout the entire fund-raising project, the folks at Panera Bread were unrelenting in their support,” recalls Dave. “Ryan Clark was one of those great kids who made life better every day,” he says. “Being involved with this project in his honor was the most meaningful thing in my career — nothing comes close.”