MyPanera Members Give Back

MyPanera® Members Give Back

Panera Bread® associates and customers come together at volunteer events across the country—and everybody benefits.

Even as she pulled into the parking lot at the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, in Norfolk, Cori Lintner wasn’t sure how many people would be joining her that evening. As a Virginia-based marketing manager for Panera Bread, Cori had helped arrange a two-hour volunteer session at the food bank and invited Panera associates and MyPanera customers to join her. “But on a Thursday evening in April, would anyone spare the time to show up?” she wondered.

Cori needn’t have worried. Even before the 5:30 p.m. start time, families, groups of young professionals, and a half dozen Panera employees streamed into the food bank. In all, 36 people arrived, and that was enough to tackle the three different projects planned for the event. Eager volunteers placed a variety of foods, from canned soup, fruit and vegetables, to juice boxes and shelf-stable milk, into backpacks slated to be given to schoolchildren who would not likely get decent meals over the weekend otherwise. They sorted 3,200 pounds of donated groceries, and they assembled 415 bags of food for a mobile pantry that caters to underserved communities in the food bank’s 4,745-square-mile service area. Cori ended the event with a sense of satisfaction, knowing that thousands of meals would be given to people struggling with hunger. “It was a very humbling experience to work in that environment and understand that hunger is a way bigger issue than we think it is,” she says.

The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore event was part of a blitz of similar community service opportunities that Panera Bread sponsored in April 2014 in honor of National Volunteer Month. In 12 cities nationwide, Panera customers and associates volunteered side by side at local food banks. Many of these food banks are members of Feeding America® , the nation’s leading hunger relief charity that operates a network of more than 200 food banks and provides food to more than 37 million people through 61,000 food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters in communities across America.

At the Oregon Food Bank in Portland, around 60 volunteers bagged more than 24,000 pounds of fresh, crisp apples to be distributed to local soup kitchens and food pantries. In St. Louis, 40 volunteers, including 25 MyPanera customers, stuffed backpacks for school kids, organized donation boxes, and raked and tidied the grounds at the Operation Food Search food bank.

For customers, signing up to volunteer through MyPanera was as easy as clicking a link. And the National Volunteer Month events fit perfectly with Panera’s long-standing fight against food insecurity. As Cori points out, “We want to walk the walk as much as we talk the talk.”

For a place like the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, volunteers are indispensable. “We could not do what we do without our volunteers,” explains spokesperson Julie Braley. “When we have a group like [the one from Panera,] we can get a lot of mobile pantry bags created, or a bunch of backpacks at one time. It helps us to be more efficient, and the more efficient we are, the more people we can feed.”