Week 40: Panera Cares

Project: Panera Cares Cafe

Time Taken: 45 minutes


Lunch at Panera Cares Cafe, take two. And…. action!!


After a false start, I finally made it to Panera Cares Cafe between a rehearsal and a show this week, thanks to it’s close proximity to the theater.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 2.28.32 PM(Image Courtesy Of RestaurantNews.com)


Panera Cares Cafe works is this: There are three levels of payment. One level where you pay the suggested donation rate, or more if you can afford it, to help sustain the cafe’s working costs. The next level is to donate what you feel is a fair share, if you’re struggling a food insecurity. Finally, if you have nothing to give monetarily, the cafe offers a plan where you can donate an hour of volunteering in exchange for a meal.

 2014-10-03 17.22.35How it all works!

I didn’t know any of this when I walked in for a quick bite to eat. From the outside, and even the front counter, it looks exactly like any other Panera. The main difference are the locked plastic donation boxes attached to the front of every cash register, and the signs explaining the different levels of giving you can choose. But if I hadn’t taken the time to read the signs, I may have thought it was just another Panera Cafe.

 2014-10-03 17.22.52Looks familiar, doesn’t it?

I talked to the sweet people that were working, who patiently explained how the system works, and ordered my food, just like any other Panera. I paid a little more more than the suggested donations for each item on the menu, to make sure to cover my costs, and sat down at a small, creme colored table surrounded by the same art that is at any other Panera.


The manager delivered my food and retrieved my vibrating disk that told me my food was ready (which actually is above and beyond service wise for a Panera- usually that disk-thing explodes in a buzz of noise and red led lights on the table and scares the crap out of me) and I enjoyed my sandwich and salad combo, just like any other Panera.


See the pattern here?

 2014-10-03 17.27.36Yummy. Just like any other Panera.

I guess I wasn’t expecting it to be so… similar. I guess I expected to be more aware of the people in the cafe who were clearly struggling to put food on their table daily. But to see a business man in a suit with a leather briefcase sitting at a table next to a woman wearing four layers of tattered clothing with a bag containing all of her earthly belongings was amazingly refreshing. No one seemed to blink an eye, no one look down their nose at anyone else, and the dream of everyone being able to eat with dignity was suddenly a reality all around me.


It’s so easy to forget, in our privileged, comfortable, safe existence how close we are to so many people in need. The idea of ‘food insecurity’ is so foreign to the way most of us think, yet Panera thought of a caring, clever way to address a serious need in the community by involving us- the unaware, the haves- into taking care of the have-nots. All by having a meal, and paying what we can, and hopefully a little bit more.


As I noshed away on my turkey sandwich goodness, and finished up my salad, I prepared to get up and go. But looking down at the plate that still had a little bit of food, I realized I still had a bread roll left. Now, usually, I am completely guilty of just throwing this ‘evil carb’ away… but in this cafe, in this new world view… there’s no way you would catch me wasting food in such a place! So I carefully wrapped it up in a napkin, looking forward to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich snack I turned it into after work that night.

2014-10-03 17.22.18-1 “We exist to feed each and every person who walks through our doors with dignity regards of their means”

– Panera Cares Statement of Purpose

So bravo to you, Panera. Thank you for shifting my world-view on food, for thinking of such a beautifully simple initiative, and for allowing others in the community help out in any way we can- even if it was just by paying a bit more for my lunch. It’s amazing how such a small experience can change you for the good.


Panera Cafe Exterior: http://www.restaurantnews.com/panera-bread-foundation-brings-panera-cares-community-cafe-to-boston/

All others: Me!


Week 39: Cooking for a cause

Project: Cooking for On the Rise Women’s Shelter

Actual Time Taken: 3 hours

This week I found my volunteer opportunity via the the good people of VolunteerMatch.org. It’s been a great resource for finding new places to volunteer from city to city, and I was so excited to find one that I could include my entire Girl Scout troop in as well!

(The “entire troop” being me, the Girl Scout Troop leader, and my Girl Scout, Hero.)

The charity I found, On the Rise, is local homeless day program that focuses on women. It’s mission is so beautiful and moving, and I was absolutely honored that we were able to help out this week by making a meal for them this week. It was super simple to sign up- I wrote them an email about being interested and they sent me a link to register for a day that they needed food delivered on a very cool website that helps caretakers and shelters keeps track of community meal planning, Meal Train.

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 1.45.12 AM

“On The Rise is a day program that is uniquely effective at working with homeless women who do not fit the requirements of other programs.  For example, a woman might not have a specified period of sobriety, a firm commitment to leave an abusive partner, a treatment plan for her mental illness, or a clean criminal record.  On The Rise meets women where they are.  Our expectations of her, and her expectations of us, grow as our relationship grows.” (Image Source

When my Troop and I met last week, we found a Cooking badge that Hero had yet to earn and composed a menu that met the requirements of earning the badge: A food Hero’s never cooked (Shrimp), a dessert she’s never made (Pumpkin Pie), and for Hero to plan a complete meal (See menu below.) Check, check, and check! Hero carefully crafted the entire menu herself, which consisted of Shrimp Scampi, Roasted Veggies, Pasta, Garlic Rolls, and Pumpkin Pie. I wondered to myself if she could get double points for the fact that I also had never made those dishes before….

The blind leading the blind…

We started on our culinary adventure at the grocery store, flying around the shelves like two contestants in Supermarket Sweep.

 2014-09-24 14.16.23Hero at the wheel!

When we got home, we started with piecing together the pumpkin pies, figuring that they would take the longest to bake. We laid out all of the ingredients and realized in our market frenzy, we forgot the condensed milk.

 2014-09-24 14.32.22Our haul, sans condensed milk…


So almond milk instead of condensed milk it is…. and we finished up the pies with the hopes that they would turn out. (And looking back, we never did try a slice to test the taste… hope it worked out for everyone…)

 2014-09-24 14.53.23Yummy pies. (I hope…)

Next we boiled a pot of pasta as we sautéed up the veggies and shrimp (in separate pans, in case there were allergies) with some  olive oil, garlic, and spices for the scampi. I know, I know, scampi recipes usually call for white wine vinegar of some kind, but the shelter prefers that volunteers not donate food with any alcohol ingredient of any kind. This probably disqualifies our dish as a traditional scampi, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

 2014-09-24 15.40.37Shrimp “Scampi,” a la Hero and Selena

We glazed the Pillsbury crescent rolls with butter and garlic and popped them in the oven after pulling out the pumpkin pies, and finished up plating the shrimp and veggies and pasta in separate aluminum dishes for transport.

2014-09-24 15.18.04

Hero glazing away

We had a great time, taking turns sautéing (aka stirring stuff) and giggling at me spilling various liquids on myself. (Like I said, a regular Rachel Ray I am certainly not…)

2014-09-24 15.06.23Sautee away Hero!

The next morning, I dropped off the food along with a note detailing the ingredients, so the women could make healthy choices and be aware of potential allergens, as well as how to re-heat the food. As I waited for the volunteers to come out to the car, a truck pulled up in front of me and started to unload fresh produce and fruit. It was a local not-for-profit that was also dropping off fresh food for the organization, and I felt so honored to have been able to do my little part to help this week too.

2014-09-25 10.55.50

“When I give food to the poor,

they call me a saint.

When I ask why the poor have no food,

They call me a communist.”

-Dom Helder Camara