September Is Hunger Action Month

September Is Hunger Action Month™

All month long, Panera Bread® is encouraging action to address the pervasive problem of hunger in the United States.

If it’s September, it must mean that Panera Bread is renewing its efforts to spread awareness of and promote community action against hunger. During Hunger Action Month, Panera joins forces with Feeding America® and its nationwide network of food banks to further the understanding of the very real problem of food insecurity, elevating the dialogue and encouraging volunteer efforts.

“Panera brings a great value to us during Hunger Action Month,” says Lucio Guerrero, vice president of communications at Feeding America. With nearly 49 million people struggling with having enough food, he says, raising public awareness is important. “Having a respected brand like Panera Bread—along with their fans, franchisees, and employees—helping to shine a light on the issue brings more attention to our mission.” 

Panera’s community engagement takes many forms. For example, on September 4, Hunger Action DayTM, the color of the day is orange (the color of hunger). Team members are encouraged to wear the color to indicate their support for the cause.

The company has founded or is involved in several programs designed to raise awareness and get needed nutrition into the hands of people who are food insecure:

Panera Cares® Community Breadbox™: This initiative is supported by cash donations from Panera customers in participating bakery-cafes. Half of the proceeds go toward supplying soup to more than 100 participating Feeding America food banks in more than 75 U.S. markets so that the same Black Bean Soup served in Panera’s bakery-cafes can be enjoyed in local food pantries and soup kitchens (see it in our video). The other half of funds are donated, to support these food banks’ efforts to provide quality, nutritious food to those in need. A portion of customers’ donations made in participating bakery-cafes may be matched by Panera or its franchisees. Since July 2012, more than 900 company-owned and franchise-operated Panera bakery-cafes have participated in this program. More than $1.8 million and more than 3.5 million servings of soup have been donated as a result.

Let’s Do Dinner: Thanks to a collaboration with Family-to-Family, a national hunger and poverty relief nonprofit, teams from Panera’s Support Centers will assemble and distribute bags of ingredients for a nutritious meal for a family of five to nearby food pantries. Plans are in place to kick off Let’s Do Dinner during Hunger Action Month, and Panera hopes to operate the program year-round. “We’ve already identified local agencies close to our Needham, Massachusetts, and St. Louis, Missouri offices to receive the dinner bags that our teams assemble,” says Kate McConnell, director of societal impact initiatives at Panera Bread.

SNAP Challenge: In 2013, a group of Panera Bread staff members participated in Feeding America’s SNAP Challenge, spending a week with just $4.50 a day available for food purchases, the average daily amount provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps). Panera CEO Ron Shaich participated and blogged about the experience, which gave him an opportunity to see firsthand the struggle it can be to make ends meet. “He has become a real advocate in the fight against hunger, and he cares personally about the issue,” notes Guerrero.

Ron’s blog, says Kate, got a lot of media attention because it happened to coincide with the debate on the farm bill, which resulted in the House of Representatives’ vote to pass a bill slashing $39 billion in funding for the SNAP program. “Based on our team’s experiences participating in the SNAP Challenge last year, we have assembled a toolkit this year so that anyone who wants to try it is able to. We’re trying to get teams in both of our support offices to do the challenge together,” Kate says. “It’s a powerful way to feel what it’s like to be hungry and the stress that goes along with that. For us, it’s one week; for others, it’s every day of their life.”

“We know that hunger is an issue that we can’t solve alone, so we rely on our generous partners, like Panera,” Guerrero says. “Panera’s involvement is invaluable because it goes beyond writing a check. It includes critical food and a commitment to local involvement in the communities that it serves. We are proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Panera—its employees, customers, and franchises—in the fight against hunger.”