Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Yesterday afternoon I received a report from Panera Bread's corporate headquarters. What I read took me back for a few moments - but in an amazing sort of way. Here's the story. About 4 years ago we contacted the Panera Bread store located on Ireland Road to see if they would be willing for us to pick up their unsold baked goods at the end of the day. We had just started overseeing Ko-op 65 and wanted to create an atmosphere where guests felt welcomed and we wanted to add a little bit more to the Feed the Children boxes we were handing out.

The first time we arrived on Monday evening (food pantry was open on Tuesday mornings) we loaded up several bags of freshly baked breads and great tasting pastries. The guests loved the fresh pastries and a hot cup of coffee as well as the additional baked goods. We recreated our version of Panera Bread at 526 W. Western Avenue.

What was amazing was very quickly we realized what corporate America had realized. Create a coffee house environment and people will gather to share their life stories. Neighbors began to talk to each other and we began to get to know them. As more of the building became available this basic idea became the cornerstone of Monroe Circle Community Center and our cafe. People walk in to a cafe the looks more like it should be uptown.

One of the greatest compliments people tell me over and over is that when you walk by the smiling faces and laughter is so appealing that it literally draws you in. This is not the norm in a low income neighborhood.

So here I am reading the value of one stores contribution to transforming a community. One store that allowed us to pick up their unsold goods that were headed straight to the dumpster. The estimated value $27,000. (Add the value of goods donated by the Panera Bread/Main Street store and it is well over $40,000 each year!) To borrow a phrase from an advertising campaign "priceless!"

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