Out of the Garden Project Turns Panera Product into ‘Tangible Signs of Love’ for Hungry Children in North Carolina

I decided to try and write this blog at 11:46 a.m. on an empty stomach just before lunch. It’s hard to concentrate as I struggle to ignore the loud grumbles and sharp pangs of hunger in my gut and the lightheadedness that comes with low blood sugar. I’m cranky. I’m slow. I’m not myself. This is how I feel, and I ate a full breakfast at 7:00 a.m. There are people out there who deal with this feeling all day, every day, chronically, and sadly most of them are children.


Five years ago, the Greensboro, North Carolina area ranked #1 in the nation for hunger. Now, the area is #9 on that list, but Don Milholin, Co-Founder, Executive Director, and President of Out of the Garden Project, explains that the number of hungry children over the last five years has remained unchanged.

The sad reality is that thinking about children going hungry is an uncomfortable thing to do, so people simply… don’t. But childhood hunger, especially in North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad, is rampant even if it isn’t always overt.

“It’s not like with breast cancer how everyone is aware of someone who has it or someone affected by it,” Don said. “The truth is, 67% of public school children in our area are hungry, but people just aren’t aware.”

That means that if your child goes to public school and isn’t the hungry one, each of the two children on either side of your child IS. Wow.

For this reason, Don considers this the worst and most urgent epidemic facing the Triad right now.

Don and his wife and Co-Founder, Kristy, are no stranger to ‘living in lack’, as he put it. This is what he feels makes them uniquely inclined to help. They approach their mission from the perspective of their clients because they’ve actually been in their shoes. They were those children in need.

Don grew up in the Midwest with very little. His family lived in a dilapidated house – one he compared to the dwelling of TV’s The Munsters – that his family was unable to afford to fix. When he wasn’t being bullied for the state of his home, he was being teased for his size or for his dream of becoming an opera singer. His wife Kristy also grew up ‘in lack’, often having to accept mustard on bread as a complete sandwich or eating nothing but rice for weeks.

Both Don and Kristy eventually found themselves in better circumstances. Kristy put herself through beauty school, and Don pursued and achieved his dream of becoming an opera singer before getting his Masters and eventually teaching at both Duke University and UNC. But Don always wanted to do more to impact the world, if only just to help one other person or family in need.

Don and Kristy met and married, and they now have four children including two boys, 29 and 22, and two girls, 17 and 14. When the girls were in elementary school, Kristy took note of some children in their school who wore the same clothes every day and brought the idea to Don to do something to help.

That’s how Out of the Garden Project got its start. Don and Kristy began every Thursday in their kitchen packing small bags of food to serve 10 families over the weekends, to help nourish the children when they weren’t in school to be fed. Now, their organization is the largest of its kind in the region and recently celebrated 11 million meals served since 2009. They went from wanting to help a few families to now serving more than 10,000 people a month, with a focus on families with children.

For the last 6 years, Out of the Garden Project has been a recipient of food from our Day-End Dough-Nation program, receiving the unsold leftovers from 7 area Panera Bread bakery-cafes, 6 days a week. Panera bakery items are distributed to families through the organization’s Fresh Mobile Markets that distribute fresh produce, bread, meat, and shelf-stable items monthly to families throughout 18 locations in Greensboro and High Point. Each of the thousand or more qualifying families leaves with at least 65 pounds of food for the month. Panera products are also distributed to schools, as the organization partners with 50 Guilford County schools to feed nearly 2,000 students and their families on a weekly basis.

When asked what he appreciates most about Panera’s donations, he said, “Panera gives without any expectations except that we do something good with the food.” He went on to say,

“Panera has donated millions of dollars in food that could have been sold. Just by [the company’s] generosity, thousands of lives have been changed.”

In addition to being a Day-End Dough-Nation recipient, Out of the Garden Project was also the beneficiary of funds from our Change Roll-Up program at the registers of our North Carolina bakery-cafes last June. This year, the organization will be the benefiting organization during the month of August.

No matter how they distribute our food or utilize our donated funds, it is done so in a way that supports a single and clear mission: to provide tangible signs of love so that no child goes to bed hungry, to nourish children’s minds and bodies with food and with hope.

We are grateful and proud that our food can be that tangible sign of love for these children and families in need.

“When our clients receive the Panera their eyes light up,” Don said.

That light may just be the spark of hope for the future, and that is the gift we strive to give through our Day-End Dough-Nation program.

Don and Kristy believe that if you fix hunger, you fix many other problems in our collective society. Without adequate nutrition a child is unable to learn, grow, and create a promising future. “If you’re paying for tutoring for child who is hungry, you’re throwing your money away,” he said. Through the work of Out of the Garden Project, Don hopes to level the playing field. Before they can prosper in any other aspect of life, children must first have their most basic needs met.

The bottom line for Don, Kristy, and their operation is this: “Every person should have the dignity of being fed, clothed, and taken care of. Especially our children.”

For more on Out of the Garden Project, visit OutoftheGardenProject.org.

Click here to read about our Day-End Dough-Nation Program and how it supports the communities we serve.

Panera employee designs t-shirt for annual Autism Cookie Campaign

This is Bashir.

He’s one of the friendly faces you see at our Voice of America Panera Bread in West Chester, Ohio in our Cincinnati market. He started with our company as an Associate a year ago and has quickly grown to become the Assistant Manager at that location. According to Belinda, the cafe General Manager, it isn’t just his natural ability to serve the guest that makes him special. There’s so much more that makes Bashir who he is.

“He is very hardworking and humble,” Belinda said. “He really enjoys working for Panera Bread and in this community that he loves dearly.”

Bashir is also a very talented graphic artist, submitting the winning design for our recent company-wide t-shirt design contest. This April, the t-shirt he created will be worn by thousands of Panera employees across eight states during our annual Pieces of Hope for Autism campaign. The campaign will run from April 8-14 in all Covelli-owned Panera cafes to support various autism organizations, and Bashir couldn’t be prouder to have been selected as the winner.

“When I heard ’you won’ I felt like a dream came true,” he said. “This contest gave me the chance to do something for children with autism. From a young age I have always wanted to do something to help children in need of assistance. This is my way to do that.”

Perhaps it’s Bashir’s background that motivates him to give back. He comes to us from the country of Jordan. There he studied graphic design and after graduation worked for 8 years as a designer and media manager for a media company before starting his own graphic design business. After 3 years of managing his own business, he wanted to realize his dream of coming to the United States because of his love for this country and the people.

Bashir knew this leap of faith would mean having to start over, but he said “You can accomplish anything you want to if you work hard. You can start over and over if necessary to make your dream come true.”

When he got to the United States, he searched for a company that had the potential for career advancement and the chance to work with and help people.

“Panera provides the chance for me to serve the people. I have the chance to make an impact on someone’s day.”

The t-shirt design contest gave him the chance to use his graphic design skills to magnify that impact in support of a cause that affects so many.

The Pieces of Hope for Autism campaign is hosted annually to support causes including The Rich Center for Autism at Youngstown State University, Potential Development, Autism Speaks of Central Ohio, Autism Society of Northwestern Pennsylvania, Autism Society of North Carolina, Autism Speaks Georgia Chapter, South Carolina Autism Society, Dan Marino Foundation, and autism centers at Cleveland Clinic, Dayton Children’s, and Cincinnati Children’s Hospitals. Funds are used by these partners to provide services, scholarships, research, treatment, advocacy, and resources for families.

The campaign is near and dear to Belinda’s heart as she has both a niece and a nephew with autism.

“I am happy that Covelli Enterprises devotes a whole week to raise funds and mostly awareness to our communities and our associates. It starts a conversation of what autism is and how we as a community can help.”

For Bashir, it’s the children, like Belinda’s niece and nephew, who are the most important thing.

“When I was designing the t-shirt, I already decided that the design was a gift for them,” he said.

Bashir donated the $100 prize he won through the contest back to the cause.

This is Bashir.

Belinda was very proud and excited that the winning design came from her cafe, but even more, she was touched by Bashir’s generosity.

“Anything he can do to support children with autism is more important than any prize won. How amazing is that?” she said. “In my eyes that makes him a rare individual.”

Bashir would like to thank Mr. Covelli for all of the charities his company supports. He also extends his gratitude to Belinda and all who work for Panera.

“I would like to take a moment to thank you for the chance to design something for this great campaign. I’m very proud to work for a company that supports great causes and organizations. Win or lose, my goal in my design was to show support for the children and do my best for them,” he said.

“Now let’s sell some cookies!”

Look for Bashir’s winning t-shirt design on the backs of every Covelli Panera employee this April 8-14 during the Pieces of Hope for Autism cookie sale. 100% of proceeds from every puzzle piece cookie sold will be donated to autism organizations in the communities we serve. To date, the campaign has raised more than $2 million for our partners.

Cookies can be pre-ordered now at Covelli.com/autism.

Click here to see highlights from last year’s campaign.

A special thanks to all Panera employees who submitted design ideas for this year’s contest!

2018 at Covelli Enterprises

Last year was another great year for our company with store openings and remodels, special fundraising promotions and events, community donations, volunteer activities, and so much more!

Our company opened 6 new restaurants in 2018 and remodeled several more locations across all of our markets to better accommodate customer needs and enhance the guest experience. New services like drive thrus, digital kiosk ordering, and delivery were incorporated into all new Panera Bread locations to provide our craveable and clean food in the most convenient ways possible.

In 2018, we established Covelli Cares, a program designed to formalize the philanthropy that has always been a part of our culture at Covelli Enterprises. The Covelli Cares umbrella encompasses all of our community giving programs and activities.

Our company was able to donate $32 million to charitable organizations in 2018, in both monetary and product donations. Much of this total was donated daily through each and every cafe as part of our Day-End Dough-Nation program to hunger relief agencies, but it also includes fundraising within the 4-walls of our cafes through our Community Breadbox, Change Roll-Up programs, and in-store fundraising promotions where a portion of our sales are donated to local partners. Our most notable campaigns are our Pieces of Hopes for Autism cookie campaign in April and our Pink Ribbon Bagel sales in October. Each of these promotions raises hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for our partner organizations.

Other community donations are given as we see needs arise in our communities for example, our support for tornado victims in North Carolina, families of fallen police officers in Central Ohio, or people in need in Warren, Ohio where we are headquartered.

Our commitment to giving back doesn’t stop there, and in 2018 we continued to encourage volunteerism among our employees in all of the markets we serve. Covelli employees gave their time to such worthy causes as Toys for Toys, Reds Rookie Success League, local foodbanks and more.

Our goal is use our success in business to continue to make a positive impact on our communities. So as we grow and continue to mold our brand to fit the needs of our customers, we also hope to continue to address the needs of the neighborhoods around us.

Sam Covelli, the Covelli family, and the entire Covelli Enterprises organization thanks both the wonderful employees who represent us in our local communities and the customers who join us in our restaurants each day for giving us the opportunity to accomplish so much in 2018.

Here’s to 2019!

Panera Launches February Campaign to ‘Mac A Difference’ in Honor of Lauren Hill

2020 CAMPAIGN UPDATE: A big THANK YOU to all who supported the Covelli Enterprises Panera Bread Cincinnati 2020 “MAC A DIFFERENCE” campaign by either donating to the Community Bread Boxes located at the registers of the 28 bakery-cafes in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area this January & February, and / or bought Panera Mac & Cheese during our Mac Give-back week! Thanks to these extraordinary efforts, Covelli Enterprises will donate a total of $16,412 to The Cure Starts Now in Lauren Hill’s honor.

(adapted from original story posted January 2018)

If you ask people what makes our Mac & Cheese special, they may say it’s the taste of the creamy Vermont white cheddar or the delicate texture of the pasta shells or maybe the fact that is made with all clean ingredients. No matter what they say, the bottom line is: our Mac & Cheese is special because it’s comfort food. It’s easy to eat, it makes you feel warm and happy inside, and it can turn a bad day completely around. It’s food that is loved by small children and adults alike.

This comfort food of ours is what connected us to one very incredible young lady named Lauren Hill, a high school basketball player who caught the attention of national media several years ago when she was diagnosed with DIPG, a rare form of pediatric brain cancer. Lauren wanted nothing more than to play her favorite sport for the college she was accepted to. Despite the progression of her tumor and a terminal prognosis, Lauren stepped out on the court in late 2014 to play for Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati in one of the most memorable college sporting events of all time.

While Lauren unfortunately passed away in the spring of 2015, her memory lives on through the work of The Cure Starts Now, an organization that funds research to find the ‘homerun cure’ that Lauren dreamed of. It’s an organization we now proudly support, all because Lauren loved our Panera Mac & Cheese so much.

Why Mac & Cheese?

Lauren’s very public battle brought a level of awareness that didn’t exist previously for DIPG, or Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, a type of brain cancer typically found in young children and characterized as an aggressive tumor in the “control center” of the brain. As the tumor grows it affects motor skills and body function, including swallowing. Toward the end as her condition worsened, Panera Mac & Cheese became one of the only things Lauren was still able to eat and enjoy. Our Colerain Panera made it possible for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to get our Mac & Cheese in bulk so Lauren could have it on-demand during her extended hospital stay.

It is this connection that inspired the current partnership between Covelli Enterprises and The Cure Starts Now in the Cincinnati market and beyond. During the months of January and February, Panera will be collecting funds for the cause in the Community Breadbox canisters at 28 participating Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky locations. And, for the second year, Panera cafes in Cincinnati will also host the “Mac A Difference” campaign in Lauren’s honor. From February 17-23, for every purchase of Mac & Cheese, Panera will donate $1 to The Cure Starts Now. There’s even a way to support the cause through Panera Catering with the Group Mac Give-Back, through which Panera will donate $4 back for every quart of Mac & Cheese purchased that week. In 2019, this amazing partnership raised nearly $25,000 in Lauren’s honor for The Cure Starts Now.

Lauren’s favorite meal is now helping to continue her mission to end cancer, and her mother, Lisa Hill, is leading the charge, with help from Panera and Covelli.

Why it Matters

For quite a few years, Lisa Hill dedicated her life to working for The Cure Starts Now in honor of her daughter. She explained that pediatric cancer research is significantly underfunded with only 4% of all cancer research dollars being dedicated to it.

“As a parent, all you want to do is see your kids grow up. I was very blessed to have had [Lauren] for 19 years. I got to see the woman that she would have been,” Lisa said. “But so many parents, whose children have DIPG, won’t have that same opportunity.”

She explained that most DIPG cases occur in children between the ages of 5 and 10, and that the long-term survival rate is only 10%, with “long-term survival” being defined as just two years from diagnosis.

That’s why funding for research is so important. In 2019, The Cure Starts Now surpassed $14 million in research funded, with a significant portion being donated in Lauren’s name.

Lisa said The Cure Starts Now is unique because it has very little operating costs, dedicating 100% of all donations directly to research. She said, “We are very serious about finding a cure.”

Lisa said the best way to honor Lauren’s memory is to continue to give. Lauren didn’t want the donations to end with her life. She didn’t want her famous basketball game to be the end of people caring or donating to DIPG research.

To support The Cure Starts Now, visit your Cincinnati area Panera locations through end of February to donate, and help ‘Mac A Difference’ from February 17-23 in participating Cincinnati locations when you purchase Lauren’s favorite, our deliciously comforting Mac & Cheese.
The Cure Starts Now created a fundraising page to coincide with our campaign, click here to donate!

Visit thecurestartsnow.org for more on the work of the organization.

See the full original story here.

Covelli Enterprises’ Third Generation: A Family Business Through and Through

In 1959, when the late Al Covelli Sr. founded Covelli Enterprises and opened his first McDonald’s restaurant, he could never have envisioned how the company would grow over the next nearly 60 years. Now the single largest franchisee of Panera Bread with more than 315 locations, Covelli Enterprises has become one of the biggest restaurant franchisees in the nation, employing more than 35,000 people in eight states. The business has changed a lot since the fifties, but one thing has remained the same. It’s a family company through and through.

Al Covelli Sr. raised his son Sam in the business. Al had started with a small open-air market selling produce and eventually made enough money selling potatoes to McDonald’s that he was able to purchase a location of his own. He did so in Warren, Ohio, which remains both the headquarters and home of Covelli Enterprises and the Covelli family. Al rooted in Sam his simple philosophy of success: do what’s right for the customer and the community.

And that humble way of thinking and operating is still at the core of Covelli Enterprises today, now run by Sam Covelli. You will see Sam inside his cafes daily talking to customers and even clearing their plates. His company donates more than $32 million to charities and hunger relief organizations annually.

Sam and his wife Caryn have raised their children in the business the same way Al raised Sam. All three of Sam’s children, Candace, Albert and Danielle, had their first jobs inside Covelli restaurants as hostesses at O’Charley’s or dishwashers or sandwich line workers at Panera. All three are grown now and hold positions within the company ranging from operations to marketing, Albert working in the Central Ohio region and Candace and Danielle working in the South Carolina/Georgia market.

Danielle Covelli, the youngest of the Covelli third generation, said, “I feel honored and humbled to carry on the legacy of a company that not only makes hard work and success a priority, but also giving back to the communities that we serve.  This is something that my father and grandfather always saw as their duty and something that has been ingrained in my brother, sister, and I as we continue in our company roles.”

Sam’s sister, Annette, along with her husband Gavin Ford and son Kevin Ricci also operate Panera cafes in Tampa, Orlando and the East Coast of Florida. Kevin, who serves as Director of Operations for this region, was extremely close with his grandfather Al and continues the same legacy in the markets where he oversees operations.

As the business expands into new markets and evolves to take on new challenges, it’s both comforting and refreshing to know that the simple philosophies that helped make Covelli Enterprises what it is today will always guide the company compass. The Covelli family tradition of excellence through hard work and giving back continues on in the third generation with the same strength and fervor as it started so many years ago and will stay at the foundation of the company for years to come.

Watching Hope SOAR: How Panera Cookies are Creating Change for Families in Cincinnati and Beyond

During the recent holiday season, millions of Americans boarded planes and endured the modern inconveniences that often come with airline travel in order to spend quality time with family and friends hundreds of miles away. Others remained local, participating in annual hometown traditions with the family, like a visit to the Cincinnati Zoo’s Festival of Lights, or an afternoon at The Taft’s Children’s Theater of Cincinnati to take in “Santa Clause the Musical.” These are common holiday activities that include mom, dad and the kids, and make for cherished memories. Although, for many families contending with an autism diagnosis, these experiences are few and far between. It’s just too difficult.

But, Covelli Enterprise’s Panera Bread locations around the country sell a delicious Puzzle Piece Cookie for a week every April…and it’s making a small, but powerful difference in the lives of families in the Cincinnati market and beyond.

Making a Difference – one Puzzle Piece Cookie at a Time.
Since the franchise’s annual Pieces of Hope for Autism cookie campaign kicked off in 2017, Covelli’s Cincinnati Panera Bread locations have sold tens of thousands of cookies for a cause over the last two years, and donated in upwards of $50,000 to Cincinnati Children’s Kelly O’Leary Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TKOC). And, the funds from the campaign are being used to support an innovative cause – the hospital’s Starting Our Adventures Right (SOAR) program. SOAR integrates the hospital with local experience-based companies and venues like the Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, the Cincinnati Recreation Commission, the Taft Theater, the Cincinnati Opera, and many others, to integrate families with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) more successfully into their communities.

“We’re making a difference here in Cincinnati one cookie at a time,” said Albert Covelli, Owner and Operator of Covelli Enterprises, at the recent Cincinnati Children’s Dinner with Champions event where the franchise was named the hospital’s “Corporate Cause Marketer of the Year” for its annual Pieces of Hope campaign.

Since 2010, Covelli’s Pieces of Hope for Autism campaign has raised more than $1.7 million for autism-related beneficiaries in the communities the franchise serves across eight states through the sale of the Puzzle Piece Shortbread Cookie every April. Cincinnati Children’s is a rapidly growing part of this amazing effort.

Shortly after the franchise’s 2016 Pieces of Hope campaign, Covelli Enterprises purchased the Cincinnati, Ohio market, and a visit to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital occurred soon there-after to begin exploring options and ways the two organizations could best merge their efforts for the good of the community. Cincinnati Children’s Kelly O’Leary Center was an integral part of those initial discussions.

Julia Anixt, MD, Program Director at TKOC, and Donor Relations Officer, Natalie Gerano, were among members of the Cincinnati Children’s staff who guided Owner/Operator, Albert Covelli, and Regional Marketing Director, Melanie Murray, through the halls of the center back then. The Covelli staff learned about the groundbreaking work Cincinnati Children’s Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics group spearheads at TKOC. They witnessed classes in session with hard-working teachers at the helm, and ASD students in an engaging and colorful environment, where learning is made interactive and hands-on. It was clear there’s never a dull moment at TKOC! And, Covelli’s partnership with Cincinnati Children’s soon became reality.

“We were so honored to be selected by Covelli as the beneficiary of its Panera’s Pieces of Hope campaign,” said Anixt. “We knew this annual campaign would raise enormous awareness about ASD in our community, and help us improve outcomes for children with a diagnosis.”


Pieces of Hope: A community-wide effort
The Cincinnati market kicked off its first Pieces of Hope campaign in 2017 with a splash raising nearly $23,000 in one week! And, the effort maintained momentum into 2018. Twenty-three participating Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky Panera Bread locations sold 17,616 Puzzle Piece Shortbread cookies to once again benefit the Kelly O’Leary Center. In all, the 2018 Cincinnati Pieces of Hope campaign raised another $24,100 this past April for Cincinnati Children’s TKOC.

The excitement in the Cincinnati market is hard to ignore every April, as local well-known organizations and individuals have now joined the Pieces of Hope campaign to help Covelli move the dial. The Cincinnati Reds invite members of Covelli, Cincinnati Children’s, and a designated hospital Champion Family from TKOC out to Great American Ballpark each April for some recognition and awareness of the Puzzle Piece Cookie during campaign week.

“The Cincinnati Reds organization is honored to be a part of the collaborative effort between Covelli Enterprises and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital every April through generating awareness at Great American Ballpark about the Panera Pieces of Hope campaign,” said Jaqueline Sprague, Cincinnati Reds Corporate Partnerships Manager. “Autism is something that impacts so many families in the area, and these two organizations are doing some amazing outreach to help make a difference in our community and beyond.”

In addition, billboard company, Lamar Advertising, donated in upwards of $13,000 in digital billboard space across the Cincinnati market in 2018 to help generate awareness across the community about the Panera campaign during that one special week in April. And, local radio morning show host, Jenn Jordan, takes part in the franchise’s annual cookie decorating party at Cincinnati Children’s with local autistic patients of TKOC the week before the cookie campaign. Jordan is a local spokesperson for autism awareness and research due in large part to her teenage son, Jakob, who has autism and has been a patient of Cincinnati Children’s for many years. Jordan’s radio station, WKRQ Q102 FM in Cincinnati, supports the campaign with local interviews and media awareness. The Cincinnati community rallying around Covelli’s Pieces of Hope has been an integral component of its overall success.

“Everyone in this region knows someone impacted by the world-renown services of Cincinnati Children’s,” said Covelli. “And, more impactful to this particular cause, everyone knows a family touched by ASD. And, that’s why our Pieces of Hope campaign has resonated among the residents of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky in such a short period of time. It’s very powerful.”

In an effort to select a cause within Cincinnati Children’s that aligned best with Covelli, the SOAR program checked all the boxes. Through SOAR, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s Kelly O’Leary Center partners with local Cincinnati experience-based stakeholders, like the airport, the zoo, local museums, parks and theaters to increase participation in activities by families of children with developmental disabilities.

According to Jennifer D. Smith, PsyD at TKOC at Cincinnati Children’s, SOAR’s mission was predicated on the fact that “participation in recreation and leisure activities offer an opportunity to practice life skills that are essential for community integration.”

Smith leads the charge for Cincinnati Children’s SOAR program, and couldn’t be more grateful for the support of partners like Covelli. The Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport staff now gets trained on how to better equip themselves and their facility for families with autism. The Cincinnati Zoo created a sensory map for ASD families to utilize during their visit and interactive experiences that are sensory-friendly. And, special sensory-based performances are now offered at The Taft, The Cincinnati Ballet, the Victoria Theatre, and other venues around the city through SOAR, thanks to companies like Covelli Enterprises, whose funds make a difference in the lives of the local community.

“Generosity from Covelli Enterprises means so much to the patients and families who turn to Cincinnati Children’s for care,” says Natalie Gerano, Donor Relations Officer at Cincinnati Children’s. “Their inclusive support provides opportunities for our patients to learn, grow and socialize as we seek new and innovative ways to nurture and support their individual interests and needs.”

The Kelly O’Leary Center continues to make huge strides in state-of-the-art diagnostics, treatment and support services, education and training that enhance the lives of individuals living on the Autism Spectrum. And, Covelli Enterprises will continue to support this effort through the Panera Bread Pieces of Hope campaign. This is just one example of how something so small, just one Puzzle Piece Shortbread Cookie, can make a huge impact in the lives of others. Every cookie truly does count.

The annual Pieces of Hope for Autism campaign will occur April 8-14th in the Cincinnati market (and most other Covelli markets as well), and will once again benefit Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s Kelly O’Leary Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Click here for a list of all other Panera Bread locations participating in this worthwhile cause to benefit local autism charities across the communities where Covelli operates Panera Bread bakery-cafes. #everycookiecounts

Free meals for veterans and military is just part of Covelli Enterprises’ deep commitment to service members

Covelli Enterprises saluted those in uniform with free meals on Monday, November 12 in observance of Veterans Day in its participating Panera Bread locations across all eight states where it operates restaurants. The company has made it an annual tradition since 2011 to honor all veterans and military service members in this way and has given away nearly 150,000 free You Pick Two® meals since it began.

To participate, service members and veterans needed to only wear their uniform or show their valid military I.D. or discharge papers at participating Covelli-owned Panera Bread locations. The company honored free meals for veterans within its Dairy Queen and O’Charley’s restaurants, as well.

“Not a day goes by that we don’t remember those who have fought to give us the freedoms we enjoy as Americans,” said Sam Covelli, Owner/Operator of Covelli Enterprises. “This is simply a small gesture of gratitude to those men and women who have sacrificed so much for those freedoms, and from the bottom of our hearts, we thank all veterans and service members for their dedication to our country.”

Covelli Enterprises’ support for veterans groups is not limited to food donations on Veterans Day. The organization supports organizations like American Red Cross, National Air Force Museum & Marathon, Veterans Affairs Hospitals, Disabled American Veterans, The Freedom Warrior Charitable Fund, Military Order of the Purple Heart, U.S. Marine Corp Foundation Toys for Tots, Wags 4 Warriors, Northeast Ohio Foundation for Patriotism, Wounded Warrior Support Foundation, Wounded Warriors of South Florida, Mission United, United Military Care, and various local VFW Posts in the form of monetary and product donations throughout the year. In various markets, Covelli Enterprises representatives deliver free food to patients at the VA hospitals several times a year, and in others, our organization sponsors programs that offer free haircuts or free custom-made suits for returning military service members to ease their transition back to civilian life.

But as a society, we have become all-too-aware of the challenges of that transition, and it is clear that a free meal or a new haircut may not be enough to overcome all of them.

A staggering 22 veterans commit suicide each day, a number that Project Welcome Home Troops, an organization dedicated to teaching coping methods to returned soldiers, is working to decrease. Covelli Enterprises’ passion for supporting veterans led to a partnership with Project Welcome Home Troops that began several years ago and resulted in Covelli Enterprises raising nearly $60,000 to bring several workshops to Ohio, enough to reach 400 veterans with the group’s emerging, and potentially life-saving, coping tools.

Project Welcome Home Troops’ workshops involve using practical breath-based tools to decrease the stress, anxiety, and sleep problems commonly experienced by veterans and service members. The Power Breath Meditation Workshop, as it is called, is an interactive, mind-body resilience building program that uses a set of rhythmic breathing patterns to bring deep mental and physical relaxation and build a framework for empowerment, self-awareness, connectedness to community as well as a positive outlook. The best part is – it is actually making adifference in many veterans’ lives.

Army veteran of the Iraq war, Tom Voss, was deployed in 2004 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. While in Iraq, Tom participated in hundreds of combat missions, convoys, security patrols, raids, area clearance operations, and humanitarian relief operations including providing security for the first democratic elections in Iraq since the invasion. Tom also conducted several scout sniper missions with the 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment), the Army’s most elite helicopter unit. Voss was honored to be selected for these responsibilities, but when he left the Army in 2006 and returned to civilian life, many of the experiences continued to negatively affect his well-being.

“[I] have been in the depths of my own hell and back dealing with PTS for more than 10 years,” Voss said. “It was the Power Breath Meditation that brought me back.”

Voss now serves as an advocate for Project Welcome Home Troops and their Power Breath Meditation Workshops.

The positive effects of this type of integrated health approach are far-reaching beyond the obvious relief it provides to veterans and their families. Utilizing these alternative treatments for PTSD and traumatic brain injury is less expensive than many medications prescribed, and over-prescribed, to veterans who continue to struggle with depression and insomnia. These coping methods are gaining in popularity on both sides of the aisle in Washington for that reason.

Representative Tim Ryan (D- Ohio) said of these coping techniques, “It’s time for legislators to learn about it because it hits all the buttons – it is helping the veterans, it’s low-cost, it’s low-tech, and there are no side effects… if that doesn’t cross partisan lines, I don’t know what’s going to.”

In addition to monetary support, Panera Bread also provided free food for the veterans and their families during the workshops. Leslye Moore, Director of Program Development for Project Welcome Home Troops, says food is an important way for workshop participants to socialize and connect.

“With veterans, so many of them self-isolate and some also don’t often take the time to take care of their bodies and eat healthy food,” Moore said. “The workshops help expose them to new and healthier ways of eating, but most importantly, the food helps them bond as a group. [It] helps to draw them out of their shells and into conversation.”

Moore recounted a story of a Vietnam veteran at one workshop where they were having a family-style meal prepared by volunteers for all of the participants. She said, “He had tears streaming down his face and said that this was the first time since he came back that he felt welcomed home. We never underestimate the power of food in our workshops.”

Covelli Enterprises uses Veterans Day as an opportunity to give all veterans and military service men and women that same feeling.

“We welcome all veterans and active duty service members to our restaurants to enjoy a meal, share their stories, and feel appreciated for all they have done for the rest of us,” said Sam Covelli. “Our commitment to honoring their service will continue in all the ways we support veterans organizations throughout the year in the communities we serve.”

Covelli Enterprises continues to seek ways to give back to military organizations and veterans in need. The company’s support for these groups has exceeded $1.4 million in food and monetary donations since 2011.

Bringing Joy: A look at Panera Bread’s transformative partnership with Dayton Children’s Hospital

In 2014, Dayton Children’s Hospital opened its brand new Autism Diagnostic Center with the goal of improving outcomes for their child patients on the autism spectrum. Four years and more than 1,500 patients later, the center is achieving that goal and continuing to transform the lives of children and families affected by autism. They are doing so with the help of Covelli Enterprises and its Panera Bread cafe locations in Dayton. As the largest donor investment in autism services at Dayton Children’s, the partnership has generated nearly $110,000 in support over four years and the funds are having a major impact.

Every April, Panera Bread hosts its annual Pieces of Hope for Autism cookie campaign through which 100% of the proceeds from every puzzle piece cookie sold is donated to Dayton Children’s. The Dayton Panera Bread cafes have also raised funds through its Covelli Cares Community Breadbox collection canisters at the registers and through its new Change Roll-Up program. These programs have generated funds to support the Autism Diagnostic Center and autism support programs at the hospital.

Mary Beth Dewitt, PhD, a clinical child and adolescent psychologist at Dayton Children’s Hospital, has witnessed the positive effect of the partnership on outcomes for her patients and their families. The funds have been used to expand diagnostic services, add staff members, purchase books and other resources for families to receive upon diagnosis, and create sensory distraction kits to entertain children hospital-wide while they are being treated. With the additional staff, Dr. Dewitt said they have been able to cut down on wait times for assessments and improve access for their patients.

“We are typically able to get kids in for an assessment within a week, which has really helped to relieve anxieties of concerned parents waiting for answers,” Dr. Dewitt said.

Dr. Dewitt also said her entire team was able to attend a training session together when in the past they may only be able to send one representative. This allowed for more collaborative and timely discussion among all team members to be able to get the most out of the training, something that wasn’t able to be done as effectively before.

The funds have also allowed the hospital to expand services into Springboro to serve the population south of Dayton with a new Behavioral Health facility that opened last year. The center was able to be designed specifically with children with autism in mind including special accommodations like small, soundproofed waiting rooms for children to be able to wait in comfort rather than in a larger, crowded waiting room that may overwhelm a particularly sensitive child.

Dayton Children’s is planning another expansion with a new building set to open in the near future close to the main hospital. The Center for Community Health and Advocacy will be home to the hospital’s community outreach programs including primary care, specialized clinics, foster care and kinship programs, nutrition services for families in need, and child safety programs. The facility will also be designed with children with autism and special needs in mind and will include a closed circuit set-up where parents may remain involved as observers in their child’s care without disturbing any assessments. The same goes for training, as the closed circuitry allows for students to view activities without interfering with results.

Dr. Dewitt said, “I’ve seen it in my kids and in the research. Early diagnosis and intervention with a multi-disciplinary approach is key. You can’t put a price on getting the optimal care for a child to allow them to live a successful and healthy life. The bottom line is we really can help these kids; they do get better with our help.”

Adam Blanchard, Director of Donor Engagement at Dayton Children’s Hospital Foundation, said that even with all the advancements that the Panera Bread partnership funds have helped to bring out, it isn’t just about what the money can do. It’s also about creating a reason for people to take action.

Blanchard recounted a story of special education classes from Magsig Middle School that made an annual tradition out of field trips to Panera Bread during the month of April in order to support kids just like them by purchasing puzzle piece cookies.

“[The campaign] touches more people than we will ever know, from all of us at Dayton Children’s to the community as a whole in all aspects. The power of people engaging can never be underestimated.”

Blanchard said one the biggest benefits of the partnership with Panera Bread is that it has helped to strengthen the Dayton Children’s connection to the community. There is now awareness that families don’t have to travel outside of the Miami Valley for expert care for their children.

“Our partnership with Panera Bread is just that, a true partnership. It’s not at all transactional. Both parties are genuinely concerned about bettering outcomes for children with autism,” Blanchard said. “It’s all about coming together to elevate each other’s organizations in the goal to solve a common problem.”

Dr. Dewitt agreed that the campaign means more than just money for the center. She said, “I just want to say thank you. The partnership has brought such enjoyment to our staff, our families, and our patients. It’s amazing that we are able to bring so much joy with a little cookie.”

You can look for ways to support Dayton Children’s Hospital and their Autism Diagnostic Center within the Dayton area Panera Bread cafes throughout the year. The Pieces of Hope for Autism cookie campaign is set for early April 2019.


Every October in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month Covelli Enterprises launches its Pink Ribbon Bagel campaign, selling special ribbon shaped cherry vanilla bagels to benefit local breast cancer organizations. Since 2010, Covelli Enterprises has raised more than $6 million to support breast cancer organizations and programs in the areas its serves.

Through this special once-a-year campaign, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of all Pink Ribbon Bagels is donated to support various breast cancer causes including Cleveland Clinic, Linked by Pink, Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center, Pink Ribbon Girls, The James Cancer Hospital, Miami Valley Hospital, Earlier.org, Palmetto Health Foundation, Roper St. Francis Foundation, St. Joseph’s/Candler Foundation and Mary Telfair Women’s Hospital and Augusta University Georgia Cancer Center.

Funds donated to these organizations, among others throughout the years, have been used to open new comprehensive breast cancer facilities, purchase mobile mammography units, support education and outreach programs, and provide transportation and assistance for those undergoing treatment. In other words, these funds have been used to support organizations and programs that are having positive affects on breast cancer outcomes in the communities where Covelli owns restaurants and beyond.

“There’s no better feeling than knowing our restaurants, our people, and our products are making a difference in the lives of others,” said Sam Covelli, Owner/Operator of Covelli Enterprises. “The Pink Ribbon Bagel campaign is one way we are continuing the promise to give back to those who need it most within the communities we serve, and over the years we’ve been able to make real, life-saving impacts with the dollars raised from these bagels. We are very proud of that.”

The Pink Ribbon Bagel, shaped in the form of the iconic pink ribbon, features cherry chips, dried cherries and cranberries, vanilla, honey, and brown sugar, and is baked fresh each morning by Panera’s bakers at each bakery-cafe. One of Panera Bread’s first franchisees, a breast cancer survivor, developed the Pink Ribbon Bagel in 2001 as a way to help support breast cancer research.

Panera Bread is encouraging customers to take a photo with their Pink Ribbon Bagels to share their support for the cause on social media using #morethandough. The cafes are accepting pre-orders for bagels at www.covelli.com/gopink.

Funds will also be collected for breast cancer partner organizations at the Covelli Cares Community Breadbox canisters located at registers during the month of October.

Firefighters in Pink – The Unique Way Some are Finding to Participate in Our Annual Panerathon

With a high temperature of 84 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity level of 93%, this year’s Panerathon was a hot and muggy one to say the least. Runners, walkers, and spectators dressed in their shorts and dri fit short-sleeved shirts to keep themselves cool while out in the sun for the 9th annual 10k/2 mile walk/run. A small group, however, could be seen donning full head-to-toe firefighting gear including jackets, pants, air packs and helmets. These items not only add extra insulation for these participants but also an additional 50-70 lbs. of weight to carry.

But extreme heat and weight are things you learn to deal with when you are a firefighter, and that’s exactly who these people are. The group called “Firefighters in Pink” includes a small number of firefighters and their family members who participate in Panerathon each year wearing their firefighting gear. The tradition was begun 6 years ago by Captain William Claypoole, affectionately called “Willie”, by the other group members.

“It started as something fun for us to do. It was a challenge for us, and it blossomed from there,” said Stephanie Deitch, formerly a volunteer firefighter from Wellsville, Ohio. Stephanie and Willie, long-time friends, are the ones who organize the team each year.

It started as just something fun to do, but has grown to mean so much more to this group.

“We’re a family within the firefighting community. When we are out there together, we’re not just representing our individual selves, but representing one another as a whole,” Stephanie said.

The group of firefighters hail from different fire departments in various communities all around the Valley. Some of them had never even met before showing up to participate in Panerathon together. Stephanie and Willie use word of mouth and Facebook to recruit firefighters and their family members to join them. It started the first year with just 2 or 3 firefighters and has slowly grown to about 8 people, adding a few more each year.

“Anybody is welcome to join our team, and we’re always looking to expand our group,” Stephanie said.

Stephanie’s mother-in-law participated this year for the first time. Her mother-in-law is not only a fire-mother-in-law, but she’s also a fire-wife and fire-mother. She participated wearing the heavy fire pants to show her support for her entire family of firefighters.

Stephanie said they even had a curious runner named Eric ask to participate wearing the full gear this year, so you don’t even need to be a firefighter or connected to a firefighting family to be able to join in.

In 2014, the Panerathon event staff got wind of this team and their mission and presented Willie with a pink fire helmet that has been worn by him every year at Panerathon since. Stephanie, building upon this tradition, had a retired helmet revamped in pink for this year’s event. She explained that firefighting gear has a lifespan and then it expires, so as more gear expires, she plans to turn them into pink displays of pride for the Firefighters in Pink to wear.

The Firefighters in Pink can be seen along the 2 mile course shaking hands, stopping to talk to people, high-fiving kids, allowing other participants to try on their packs and helmets, and encouraging other participants on the course to continue on. Stephanie said it’s a great way to give the community a small sense of what firefighters go through every day. In some ways, the struggles a firefighter experiences mirrors the fight of someone battling cancer.

“Pretty much all of us know someone who has had cancer, and as firefighters we are very aware of how cancer affects people,” she said.

It’s no wonder these firefighters, all of whom are volunteers with the exception of Willie, who is the only full-time firefighter, choose to participate each year in the sweltering heat to show their support for the cause. They are used to making these types of sacrifices. In their line of work, they are out there giving their time and risking their lives to save the lives of others.

“I think [saving lives] is what Panerathon is all about, so in a way, Panerathon helps us achieve that same goal.”

Willie’s firefighting recently relocated him to Georgia, but he returned to the Valley for Panerathon and plans to continue doing so every year. The event has come to mean a lot to him in particular. His father, called “Red”, was present at every Panerathon since the Firefighters in Pink first began participating. He referred to himself as the “equipment manager” for the group, and he served as a morale booster out there in his chair cheering on the participants each year. Red passed away July 10 of this year, just a month and a half before Panerathon, after becoming sick in late 2017. Stephanie said Red’s passing made this both a more difficult and a more special Panerathon for the few participants who knew him well.

“Willie would give anyone the shirt off his back if they needed it, so we were out there supporting Willie this year,” Stephanie said.

Stephanie went on to explain how Willie’s commitment to helping others goes beyond his daily duties as a firefighter. He currently performs lectures on suicide prevention among firefighters in his new home in Georgia and hopes to one day take his lectures on the road across the country.

Stephanie said she, Willie, and the rest of the Firefighters in Pink look forward to next year’s Panerathon and hopefully adding even more people to their crew.

She equated their participation in event to their passion for their jobs saying, “We want to be there. We do it because we enjoy it and to be out there with the community.”

Essentially they do it because they care.

We are grateful to Stephanie, Willie and all firefighters, EMTs, and police officers who are out there saving lives every day, and we thank the Firefighters in Pink for their part in making Panerathon the special community event it is.

To learn more about Firefighters in Pink and how you can join them, find Steph Deitch on Facebook or email her at smnremtbff@yahoo.com.

For more information on Panerathon, visit panerathon.org.