Cousins for a Cause – An inspiring story about what Panerathon means to one special family

Every year on a Sunday in late August, hundreds of teams and individuals gather together in downtown Youngstown, Ohio to walk, jog, or run for one common cause: to raise funds for the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center (JACBCC) at St. Elizabeth Hospital Youngstown. This facility, which opened its doors in 2011, has served nearly 70,000 women in the region, and is responsible for improved outcomes for so many dealing with the devastating diagnosis of breast cancer.

There are countless stories to tell among the women helped by the JACBCC and about those who participate as part of a team in Panerathon. One particular story, the story of Marianne Burman and her cousin Mary Argiro, is one we were lucky enough to hear and fortunate enough to get to share now as our annual Panerathon approaches in a few short weeks.

In 2014, Marianne was diagnosed with breast cancer. She found her own lump during a self-breast exam, even after it went undetected through traditional mammography. Her cousin Mary watched Marianne ‘fight the battle’, going through grueling rounds of radiation and chemo until she was finally through it. Mary created a Panerathon team in Marianne’s honor the following year, called ‘Marching with Marianne’ and encouraged their big, close-knit Italian family to join the team and show their support by walking alongside Marianne, who had just been through the struggle of a lifetime.

“The hardest part was the treatment. It’s the worst thing in the world someone can go through, and I was even lucky. I never got sick with the chemo,” Marianne recalled.

She also noted the incredible feeling of isolation she felt. Marianne and Mary are part of the Ginnetti clan, a large family originally from Struthers, Ohio. The Ginnettis pride themselves on their camaraderie, making it a priority to stay close to cousins through their monthly Ginnetti Girls’ Night Out, annual Christmas parties, and frequent family reunions. Marianne, however, had to avoid large groups of people during her treatment due to her compromised immune system. A grandmother of three, she was also unable to see her grandkids throughout the extent of her treatment. This, to her, was the most heartbreaking part of it all. During that time, any phone call or card she received from a family member or friend meant so much. It helped ease the feeling of separation.

For Marianne, that feeling completely disappeared on Sunday, August 30 when she was joined by nearly 40 members of her extended family at the 2015 Panerathon, all there to show their love for her.

“The support meant so much to me. That’s why it’s so important to me now to show my support for others,” she said.

That’s the reason Marianne, Mary and the rest of their cousins continue to put together a team every year, even though Marianne has been cancer-free since that first year. Their team, now called ‘Cousins for a Cause’, has grown to more than 60 participants over the last 4 years, mostly consisting of cousins and extended family members all from all around the Mahoning Valley area.

“There’s strength in numbers,” said Mary. “At first, I started participating in Panerathon to support Marianne, but once you’re there, it’s a whole new world. The feeling comes over you that you aren’t just supporting the person you came there to walk for, but you’re supporting everyone else, too. THAT’S strength in numbers.”
Marianne agreed, “There’s nothing like seeing the mass of people all wearing the same shirt all lined up on race day. It takes your breath away.”

Unfortunately, cancer touches the lives of nearly everyone somehow, and several other family members were also diagnosed over the years. Marianne’s sister Susan McCallister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 and in 2018 Mary was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Mary was just released this past June from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital recovering both a partial kidney removal and an adrenal gland removal.

The good news: at this year’s Panerathon, Marianne, Susan and Mary will all three be officially cancer-free.

“You definitely feel like you have a guardian angel looking out for you. We all feel like we’ve been blessed,” Mary said.

So blessed, that the Ginnetti cousins, 13 of them in total, all crossed a huge item off their collective bucket list together. They took a trip to Italy for 10 days to see the incredible sights of their country of origin and even enter the house where Mary’s mother, also a breast cancer survivor, was born. Both women found themselves getting emotional as they recounted their travels.

“It was incredible to see the place where my mother was born. We were back where it all started,” Mary said.

(Fun fact: Mary’s mother was treated by Dr. Nancy Gantt, who is still a practicing surgeon at St. Elizabeth today and is highly involved at the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center. It was Dr. Gantt who operated on Mary’s mom to remove and cure her cancer.)

The Ginnetti cousins will never forget their amazing trip to Italy, but the best part was getting to spend time with more than 30 new family members they had never met before.

“None of them spoke any English, and none of us spoke Italian. We had only a 15-year-old girl translating for us,” Marianne recalled.

They may not have shared the same language, but they all shared the very same sense of family and closeness that defines the Ginnetti cousins.

Mary and Marianne hope to continue to grow their Panerathon team. Their last family reunion had more than 75 people in attendance, all of whom they hope to eventually encourage to participate. Perhaps, they’ll even get a few of their new family members from Italy to join, too!

In any event, they both agreed that they are looking forward to seeing the faces of those they love all gathered together, old and young, to show support for one another and for everyone else there that day who may need it.

You can find Mary, Marianne and their ‘Cousins for a Cause’ team Sunday, August 26 at the Covelli Centre in downtown Youngstown lined up along with nearly 11,000 other participants and spectators. A mass of people, all likely to have equally inspiring stories to share about how cancer has touched their lives and what the event means to them.

Panerathon in the City of YOU
Thanks to the City of Youngstown and Birds Eye View Films for putting together this awesome video that captures what Panerathon is all about!

For more on Panerathon or to register, visit Panerathon.org. The event has raised more than $2 million since 2010 for the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center, and 100% of proceeds benefits the cause.

Coach Fickell and The 2nd & 7 Foundation team up with Panera Bread to Tackle Illiteracy

When you’re a small child in the 2nd grade, there is nothing more impressive to you than a high school or college athlete. Nothing more impressive nor influential.

In 1999, three former Ohio State University football players Luke Fickell, Ryan Miller and Mike Vrabel realized this potential due to their own outreach and volunteer experiences and decided to use it to help make a lasting difference on the Central Ohio community. They began the 2nd & 7 Foundation, named for the original seven 2nd grade classrooms they read to (and also an obvious homage to their football roots).

The Foundation’s mission has remained the same since the beginning: to promote reading by providing free books and positive role models to kids in need while encouraging young athletes of the community to pay it forward.

This mission was hard to contain to just Central Ohio, and over the last 19 years, the 2nd & 7 Foundation has provided books to children in 24 states and in 170 schools. The organization, which writes and publishes its own books featuring the adventures of the Hog Mollies, has recently placed its largest order for books in its history.

While the 2nd & 7 Foundation has always had a presence in the Cincinnati area, their program blossomed when Luke Fickell, who spent most of his career serving as assistant football coach at The Ohio State University, was hired at the University of Cincinnati as their new head coach in 2016. When he arrived in Cincinnati, he immediately began reading in schools with student-athletes and helped open doors for the growth of the organization in the Cincinnati market. More than 10,000 books have already been distributed in the area.

Our Cincinnati Panera Bread cafes are proudly partnered with the 2nd and 7 Foundation during the months of July and August. We will be collecting funds at the Covelli Cares collection canisters at the registers of all Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area Panera Bread cafes. All funds raised will support the growth of the reading program in the Cincinnati community.

The partnership also strives to get books into the hands of as many kids as possible, so for the entire month of August, a free Hog Mollie book from the 2nd & 7 Foundation will be provided with every Panera Bread kids meal purchased at participating Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky locations.

“We are grateful for the support from the team at Covelli and Panera Bread. The support of our corporate partners and our friends in the community means we are able to get more free books in the hands of kids who need them the most,” said Coach Fickell. “We also value every opportunity we have to plant the seeds of paying it forward with our student-athletes.”

While the organization tends to focus on lower-income areas and schools where the biggest impact can be made, Executive Director Amy Hoying said, “There is a need to reinforce the importance of reading in all second graders.”

Next year the Foundation will celebrate its 20th anniversary. Hoying said they hope to continue to improve the lives in the communities they serve by staying true to their mission.

Hoying looks forward to more growth in the next 20 years and credits the support of the community for the success of the program thus far. “Thank you to Panera Bread for this partnership because we wouldn’t be where we are today without our partners and the awareness within the community.”

Panera’s kids menu includes more than 40 entrees choices made with all-clean ingredients combined with healthy items like apples or organic yogurt…and in Cincinnati this month, a book also comes on the side.

Panera Summer of Wishes Helps Make Dreams Come True

Almost everyone has heard of Make-A-Wish, the organization that grants life-changing wishes to children with critical illnesses. Known for creating unforgettable wish experiences for children and families, the world of wishes changes with vision of every child. Where most children wish for a trip to Disney World or a chance to meet their favorite celebrity, things changed when Make-A-Wish Georgia first met seven-year-old, Zayden.

With an imagination as wide as outer space, Zayden wished to blast off to Saturn in a red rocket ship. After facing four open-heart surgeries and nearly forty other procedures to keep him alive, he wanted nothing more than to see the stars, and the moon, and a friendly alien named BeeBo. Although this wish seemed virtually impossible, Make-A-Wish Georgia set out to make Zayden’s Mission a reality.

With the help of TRICK 3D, a virtually reality design studio located in Atlanta, Zayden’s vision was brought to life. On May 11, Commander Zayden blasted off to his Saturn experience out of Dobbins Air Reserve Base and as he envisioned, he saw the stars, and the moon, and his friend, the alien BeeBo. Over 100 community supporters joined to the celebration in welcoming him back from his voyage.

To see more about Zayden’s story and his amazing VR trip to Saturn, click here.

We met Zayden at our Summer of Wishes Rally Day at our Augusta, GA Panera Bread location in early July. Zayden was more than happy to help us promote our Summer of Wishes partnership with Make-A-Wish, and we were so happy to have him there to share his story.

Beginning on July 1, we began selling our specialty flip flop cookies at 25 locations across South Carolina and Georgia with proceeds benefitting Make-A-Wish to grant wishes to local kids like Zayden.

The Summer of Wishes partnership continues through July 31 and for each flip flop cookie sold during this time, Panera will donate $1. Our cafes are also accepting donations at the register, and donators will receive a blue paper star to write their name on and display in the café.

Wishes are an essential part of the healing process that provide children hope for the future, strength to fight health battles, and joy to celebrate physical and emotional victories. It certainly helped Zayden and his family move beyond their struggles. Make-A-Wish is entirely funded by donations from special events and campaigns, like our Summer of Wishes campaign, individual donors and corporate sponsors.

The goal of the Summer of Wishes campaign is to raise around $15,000, which is enough to grant wishes for two local kids. After watching Zayden’s wish come true, we know for sure, there is no wish too big or too far away to reach.

Our Day-End Dough-Nation Program – Supporting Those Who Support Others

We had a hard time tracking down Peter Freimark. He’s a very busy man. We caught up with him as he was on his drive back to Cleveland from the coal fields of Kentucky where he had been volunteering. His Trip to Appalachia was organized through the Good People Fund, and while there, Peter spent time building wheelchair ramps, painting and cleaning homes, and bringing food to those in need. This is what Peter does in his spare time when he isn’t picking up leftovers from our Panera Bread locations as a representative of his congregation at Temple Israel Ner Tamid.

Peter’s congregation has been a recipient of our Day-End Dough-Nation program for more than a decade. In that time, Peter and a team of dedicated volunteers have been feeding the hungry in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the Cleveland area. His group picks up unsold bakery and bread products from our Highland Heights, Mayfield Heights, and Harvard Park cafe locations five days a week and distributes it to those who need it most – women and children in shelters, people in recovery, and those living on the streets.

A typical pick-up happens in the early morning hours before our cafe opens. Peter says the Panera employees are always helpful to him and his volunteers, even helping to load their cars for them when there is an abundance of leftover baked goods from the day before. Then Peter and his team set out either to shelters and recovery centers or back to the church where even more volunteers are waiting to take food out to the homeless on the streets. Every Friday, his congregation makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the homeless, and he said Panera pastries along with those is always a special delight for those receiving the food.

“Imagine sleeping under a bridge or living in a car in a Northeast Ohio winter. Imagine what a welcome gift this food is to these people,” he said.

His group expects nothing in return for the food. They have no ulterior motives nor do they bring with them any intentions of preaching or conversion. They simply bring the hope that their neighbors in need will perhaps suffer a bit less.

PeterFreimark-453x579When we asked Peter why he does what he does, he humbly replied, “It’s the right thing to do. I can eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich anytime I want to. What I want for myself, I want for others, too.”

Peter and the volunteers who work with him are all unpaid and use their own cars and gasoline to drive around bringing food to those in need. These are the people we are so proud to support through this program. The people like Peter who are relentlessly working in their communities to make a difference in people’s lives. The goal of our Day-End Dough-Nation program is to support those who are out there supporting others who need it most.

Through the Day-End Dough-Nation program, thousands of pounds of unsold bread and bakery products are donated each day from our Panera cafes to benefit hunger relief agencies, local food pantries, shelters, churches, and volunteer organizations. In 2017 alone, Covelli Enterprises donated more than $30 million in the form of food for the hungry.

Peter said of the program, “It’s such an efficient way for needy people to get delicious food at no cost to them. Plus, it keeps food out of the landfill. Everything gets used and in the best way possible.”

Peter also said, “I would like to thank [Covelli Enterprises] on behalf of the people who receive the food, who are unable to thank you. They are so grateful. What your company does really helps.”

Peter’s philosophy is that any tiny effort you can put forth to turn someone’s day around could mean a world difference to that person.

In his own words, “a tasty treat from Panera Bread is enough to put a smile on their faces, and you never know what a difference even a small act of kindness can make in someone’s life. Truly, there is no such thing as a small act of kindness.”

We thank Peter, his team of volunteers, and all our hundreds of other Day-End Dough-Nation partners who are supporting their communities in this special way. It is our honor and privilege to support you.

Rachel’s Challenge at Panera Bread – What we can all learn from a group of kids

Imagine you’re walking into Panera Bread to enjoy a breakfast sandwich and an iced coffee on a Saturday morning in late May. As you enter, though, you are halted by a group of middle school girls all dressed in the same organization’s t-shirt. Your first thoughts may likely be… what are these kids going to ask me for? How much are they are going to request I donate to their cause?

What would you do if these kids then offered to purchase your entire breakfast for you? Would you skeptically ask them what the catch is?  Would your mouth hang open in amazement? Would you believe that this group of kids has no other purpose than to spread a message of kindness?

Believe it.

Every day we are bombarded with stories in the media of bullying, teen suicide, and school violence. There’s an organization out there that’s working to change that narrative. It’s a group consisting of very special middle schoolers, like the ones who showed up at one of our West Akron Panera Bread cafes on the last Saturday in May to surprise unsuspecting guests with free meals, gift cards and other gestures of benevolence.

These students are part of Rachel’s Challenge, an organization with chapters across the country that works to prevent violence and promote the importance of kindness in schools. The movement is inspired by a story of tragedy that we are all familiar with. Rachel Scott was the first student lost in the 1999 Columbine school shooting. She was killed while eating lunch outside on the school lawn with one of her friends. After she died, many students reached out to her parents with stories of how Rachel touched their lives with her small acts of kindness, even helping to prevent a fellow student from taking his own life. Rachel’s story is now the foundation for the organization’s mission to make schools safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with compassion and respect.

For 40 students at Fairlawn’s Revere Middle School, Rachel’s Challenge is an important part of their school lives. The group meets monthly and discusses topics like anti-bullying, violence, and how to respect others who are different. The student members gather toys and gifts for foster kids in the area during the holidays and work all year to fundraise for their annual Pay It Forward event through which they perform random acts of generosity for strangers. On this one day, the students spread out across the Akron area purchasing groceries for people, supplying gift cards to restaurants, paying for haircuts, and distributing cold bottles of water to people leaving the gym. They also buy breakfast for our fortunate Panera Bread guests.

This year the students at Revere raised a record-breaking $4,000 to make their Pay It Forward day possible.

A program proponent in a video featured on the Rachel’s Challenge website (www.rachelschallenge.org) mentions how adults sometimes write off the young kids of today as lost and lacking respect. Adults often feel the need to tell kids what they can’t do instead of giving them a purpose and showing them what they can do.

Jeanette Geer is not one those adults. She is the Rachel’s Challenge advisor at Revere, and she is also mom to middle-schooler, Tate, who will be entering the 8th grade this fall and is an active member of the group. Jeanette believes the Rachel’s Challenge program filled a necessary gap for middle schoolers looking to understand the world around them and the stories they hear in the media.

rever-post-680x404Geer also noted the “domino effect” that is incited by the group saying, “At Panera, we had one lady give all our students hugs in return for their acts of kindness, and a group of old men asked the kids what they were doing, and when the kids replied that they were with Rachel’s Challenge and revealed what they had planned, the men decided to buy all the kids their breakfasts.”

The kindness was contagious. 

So what do you have to do to get 40 middle school students up early on a weekend to spend their personal time doing kind deeds for others? It turns out, not much. All they need it is the opportunity. Rachel’s Challenge is providing them that opportunity and is doing so for students across the country as it works to transform schools and communities into positive, collaborative, and uplifting environments. And if there’s any question of what we can all learn from a collection of young kids, the answer is…perhaps a lot.

PANERA BREAD’S ‘PIECES OF HOPE FOR AUTISM’ COOKIE CAMPAIGN SURPASSES $2 MILLION RAISED

Every April in honor of Autism Awareness month Covelli Enterprises launches its ‘Pieces of Hope for Autism’ cookie campaign. This year the campaign spanned 7 states, involved 215 Panera Bread locations and the hard labor of more than 450 bakers, and raised more than $250,000. Since 2010, Covelli Enterprises has raised more than $2 million to support local autism organizations in the areas its serves.

Through this special once-a-year campaign, 100% of the proceeds from the sale of all ‘Pieces of Hope’ cookies are donated to support various autism causes including The Rich Center for Autism at Youngstown State University, Potential Development, Autism Speaks of Central Ohio, Autism Society of North Carolina, Autism Unbound, Dan Marino Foundation, Medical University of South Carolina’s Project Rex, 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 puzzle piece cookie, specially designed to represent the symbol for autism, is sold only in Covelli-owned and operated Panera Bread cafés each year. The cookie consists of Panera Bread’s famous shortbread topped with sweet white icing and an edible sugar decal and is made completely free of any artificial colors, flavors, additives or preservatives.

“I love our ‘Pieces of Hope for Autism’ campaign because I know how much good it is doing in our communities,” said Sam Covelli, Owner/Operator of Covelli Enterprises. “This special cookie has allowed us to make such a positive difference for those with autism, and that’s something we are extremely proud of.”

Throughout the month of April, Covelli Panera cafés also collected Community Breadbox donations at the registers of all of its cafés to raise funds for the cause as part of its Covelli Cares community support.

The delicious ‘Pieces of Hope for Autism’ puzzle piece cookies for a cause will return April 2019! #everycookiecounts

COVELLI CARES – A program to formalize Covelli Enterprises’ long history of community giving

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It’s always been the Covelli way to give back. Since Covelli Enterprises began in 1959, supporting the local community has always been a part of its culture. In 2017, the company decided to take that giving to a new level by giving it name, and Covelli Cares was born.

Through Covelli Cares, Covelli Enterprises is able to support local charities in the neighborhoods we serve. This program is nothing different for our organization, which gives $32 million annually to charitable causes. It’s simply putting a name to the giving that’s been going on since the company’s founding.

The Covelli Cares program encompasses all of Covelli Enterprises’ community giving including our annual campaigns to raise funds for causes like autism and breast cancer, our Community Breadbox collection canisters to raise funds for community partners, our Day-End Dough-Nation program through which we donate all leftover breads and bakery products to hunger relief agencies, in-kind donations, charitable event sponsorships, and even volunteerism.

Covelli Cares is Covelli Enterprises’ promise to strengthen and improve lives in the communities it serves, whether through community donations, corporate giving, fundraising promotions, partnerships with local non-profit organizations, or through local volunteer activities. 100% of all donations to Covelli Cares will benefit non-profit partners in the communities Covelli Enterprises serves.

Covelli Cares is nothing new. Our company’s culture has always been centered on giving back. This program will simply enhance our ability to encourage our employees and customers to get involved and celebrate the ways that we are continuing the mission in our communities,” said Sam Covelli, CEO of Covelli Enterprises.”

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In 2018, the Covelli organization piloted raising general funds for Covelli Cares in various markets where we operate Panera Bread restaurants. These general funds allow Covelli Enterprises to react quickly in response to both national and local tragedies. For example, in late 2017, general funds from Covelli Cares were used to support victims of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, and in early 2018, funds were used to support the families of the Westerville, Ohio police officers who were killed in the line of duty. These are just a few examples of ways in which Covelli Cares is making an impact in our communities.

Covelli Enterprises has a long history of philanthropy. Throughout its existence, the company has donated millions of dollars to local charitable organizations including urban leagues, scholarship funds, hospitals, athletic organizations, animal rights groups, group fighting to end homelessness and hunger, among countless others. Since 2010, Covelli has donated more than $3 million to breast cancer causes, $1.4 million to autism charities, and $1.2 million to veterans and military organizations.

In 2017, Sam Covelli and his wife Caryn, donated $2 million to the Cleveland Clinic’s state-of-the-art Taussig Cancer Center. The same year, Covelli donated $1 million to Youngstown State University Athletics, a gift that will be used to maintain the athletic facilities that make up the soon-to-be-named Covelli Sports Complex including the soccer field, track and field facilities, and women’s softball field.

Covelli recently celebrated more than 30 years as the largest local contributor to the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program, with a $16,000 dollar annual donation. In 2017, however, Covelli involved all of his markets in raising funds for the cause, donating more than $60,000 nationally to provide toys for children in need. Every August the company hosts the Panerathon 10K/2 Mile walk/run in Youngstown, OH, which has hosted nearly 50,000 people and raised $2 million for the Joanie Abdu Breast Comprehensive Breast Care Center at St. Elizabeth Health Center over the past eight years.

In 2012, Covelli made the largest donation in history to The Ohio State University Athletics to assist in funding the construction of a multi-sport arena, Covelli Arena. The $10 million dollar gift will provide critical amenities for student-athletes in men’s and women’s volleyball, gymnastics, fencing and wrestling, including new locker rooms, offices, training and treatment rooms, and construction began in mid-2017.

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Covelli Enterprises supports many additional non-profits in the communities where it operates restaurants including Salvation Army, Disabled American Veterans, Animal Welfare League, American Heart Association, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, The James Cancer Hospital, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Dayton Children’s Hospital and more. For his commitment to the community, Covelli was recognized with the 2012 Salvation Army’s Distinguished Community Service Award as well as the American Red Cross Spirit of the Mahoning Valley Award, and he was named 2013 Corporate Philanthropist of the Year in the Mahoning Valley. In 2014, Cleveland Clinic nominated Covelli Enterprises for the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Cleveland National Philanthropy Day Corporate Leadership Award. In 2015, the company received Business First’s Corporate Caring Award for its support of Central Ohio hunger relief agencies. In 2018, Sam Covelli was awarded the Tribune Chronicle and Trumbull 100’s Community Star Award for his philanthropy throughout the Mahoning Valley where the company is headquartered.

“We give back because it’s the right thing to do,” said Sam Covelli. “It’s a privilege to be able to help others, so that’s what we are going to continue doing.”

Covelli Cares is the program that will allow Covelli Enterprises to do just that.

All the little faces…

LaurenHill1-321x428If you ask people what makes our mac and 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 and cheese is special because it’s comfort food. It’s food that is easy to eat. It’s food that makes you feel warm and happy inside. It’s food that can turn around a bad day. It’s food that is loved by small children and adults alike.

And 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. And 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 and cheese so much.LaurenHill2-305x429

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 mobility, nerves, speech, and body function, including swallowing. Toward the end as her condition worsened, our mac and cheese became one of the only things Lauren was still able to eat and one of the only things she really enjoyed eating.

This story, however, is not about mac and cheese. And it’s not even about Lauren. To put it in the words of Lauren’s mother, Lisa Hill, it’s about all the little faces behind Lauren’s.

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Lisa, who has now dedicated her life to working for The Cure Starts Now, said, “We all think we know pediatric cancer. You walk past the posters and see the little bald heads. You acknowledge it briefly and think to yourself, ‘thank God my kids are healthy,’ and you move on.”

Lisa explained that there’s a lot more complexity to the issue of DIPG and pediatric brain cancer, especially how severely underfunded the research is. Only 4% of ALL cancer research funding goes to pediatric cancers. That 4% spread across ALL forms of pediatric cancer, in Lisa’s opinion, doesn’t go far enough.

DIPG only has a 10% long term survival rate. Even more startling, “long term survivor” is considered any child living just two years beyond diagnosis. And while Lauren lived to see her 19th birthday, most of the children with DIPG are between the ages of 5 and 10. This tumor’s main treatment still continues to be radiation and steroids which temporarily shrinks the tumor, but eventually it starts to regrow. To date, there isn’t even a drug that has helped to extend life expectancy for these children.

“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.”

To put it in Lisa’s terms, as far as research funding goes we currently care about our adults 96% more than we care about our kids.

Lauren, who her mom describes as a quiet leader, was forced into the spotlight when her inspirational story went viral. Lauren embraced her role as the voice for DIPG… even when she was struggling to walk, talk and eat. She continued fighting until the end for all the other kids. She became the most recognizable face of pediatric cancer and remains that today.

And Lauren’s influence has made a big difference.

Because of Lauren’s efforts, The Cure Starts Now has grown in chapters as well as research funded. In 2015, the organization had raised a total of $6.7 million in research funding over its 8 years of existence. $2 million of that was in Lauren’s honor. Lisa said, “One day the realization hit me that Lauren had raised one third of all donations over the lifetime of the charity in just a 14-month period. It was so hard for me to believe she had that much of an impact.”

In 2017, the organization reached $10.1 million in research funded, $2.3 million of that raised in Lauren’s name alone.

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.”

In late 2017, Panera Bread presented a check for just over $6,500 to Lisa Hill and The Cure Starts Now during halftime at the annual Lauren Hill Tipoff Classic held at Xavier University. These funds were raised through collection canisters at the registers of our 22 bakery-cafés in the Greater Cincinnati area.

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Of the donation from Panera Bread, Lisa said, “I appreciate Panera and their partnership to help us with research. Any partnership that we can make and sustain with an organization to fund research moving forward is huge. It’s not just about having an event. It’s about getting companies and corporations vested in finding a cure for cancer. That’s a huge dynamic for us to fund as much research as possible. The faster we can do the research, the faster we get a better outcome for the kids and 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.

In a very emotional final interview before she died, Lauren said, “[This] is not a happy story. But you can turn it into a happy story.” She continued, “I go to bed every night thinking to myself, ‘What am I here for, what am I here for, what am I here for’… and keep reminding myself that I’m here not for me. I’m here for everybody else.”

Lauren needed to know the funding for finding a cure would continue on. There’s still not a cure – there are other children dying. Lauren was fighting for those other kids. All those other little faces.

She also wanted to be clear that cancer didn’t win. And it never will.

Lisa, who has two other children, Nathan, 20 and Erin, 17, said, “You don’t love anyone like you love your kids. There are certain levels of love. And your love for your child is the greatest love.”

Lauren would have been 22 this year and getting ready to graduate from Mount St. Joseph.

Lauren bravely embraced her role as the voice for all children with DIPG. She demonstrated an inner strength that is pervasive throughout Lauren’s entire family, but incredibly evident in her mother Lisa, and the way she continues to carry out Lauren’s mission day in and day out.

“My job can be emotionally challenging at times, but also very rewarding in supporting other families,” Lisa said.  “I often will watch a Lauren video to remind me, to boost me up and give me strength.  I’m not sure which one of us had more or who fed who when it came to strength. Less often I find the videos as sad. When I watch them, I get to see her face, hear her words, see her smile and she gives me a reminder that the war on DIPG is not over and battles still need to be fought to find a cure for these kids. [Lauren] gives me the strength to continue fighting and raising research funding and awareness in her honor and the honor of all the other kids fallen to DIPG. To now be her voice that has been forever silenced.”

To support The Cure Starts Now and Lauren’s fight to find a cure, visit layupforlauren.org and look for more ways to support the cause at your Cincinnati Panera Bread cafés in 2018, including a late-summer fundraiser featuring (what else, but) Lauren’s favorite – our deliciously comforting mac and cheese.

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Covelli Donates $1 Million to Youngstown State University

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A Gift to ‘Maintain’ Hope for the Future

 On a beautiful Saturday in fall, Youngstown State University football fans turned their gaze to the 20-yard line at the south end of Beede Field in Stambaugh Stadium for a special presentation. Sam and Caryn Covelli, lifelong Mahoning Valley residents and Penguins fans, presented a gift to YSU Athletics in the amount of $1 million, a gift meant to enhance the neighborhood surrounding campus and continue the university’s tradition of excellence on and off the field, but one that, for the Youngstown community, means so much more.

YSU Penguins have long been recognized for their success on the field and in the arena. They have notable wins historically in almost every sport including four national football titles and a trip to last year’s NCAA FCS Championship and two recent women’s triple crown wins in 2013-14 and 2014-15 for cross country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field to name just a few. YSU’s enrollment and academics are in an upward swing as well with larger freshmen classes boasting increasingly higher standardized test scores and high school grade point averages starting each new school year for the past several years according to a 2016 news release on the university’s website.

In short, there is a lot to be proud of about Youngstown State. And yet, if you ask someone from the Valley to describe exactly what makes YSU so special, it’s likely to be hard for them to put into words. The university means so much more than athletic and academic accolades. It means hope for the future.

“YSU is woven so deeply into the fabric of our community. From the opportunities it creates for its students and graduates, to the community-binding sporting events it provides for spectators and fans, to the thousands of students who we have employed as part of our company, this institution is invaluable to our Valley,” said Sam Covelli, CEO of Covelli Enterprises. “For this reason, we are grateful to be in a position to help support the student-athletes, the university, and the campus-area as a whole.”

The $1 million gift will be used to enhance and maintain the athletics facilities across from Stambaugh Stadium on the west side of campus currently made up of Farmers National Bank Field and YSU Softball Field and will serve to drastically improve the Fifth Avenue gateway to the university. For many years, this end of campus was marked by empty, dilapidated houses and vacant lots, but is now and will be the beautified home of the soccer and track-and-field facilities, as well as the softball field and a proposed tennis center.

In other words, the gift will be used to bolster the powerful transformation the university has already brought about in the areas surrounding campus and continue to provide invaluable experiences for student-athletes and their Penguin fanatics alike for years to come.

“Under the leadership of President Tressel and Executive Director of Athletics Ron Strollo, I have no doubt that YSU’s best days are ahead of it both academically and athletically,” said Covelli, who received an honorary degree at YSU’s Fall Commencement in December 2016.

“Here in the Valley, we’re all Penguins,” he added.

In recognition of the gift, the sports fields affected will be named Covelli Sports Complex. The gift will help maintain the facilities, and perhaps more importantly, a sense of hope for the future of the area.

For more information on this gift, visit our news room.

Delivering Goodness: The APL Days of Summer

I am a man who has been blessed with a loving family, a great business, fantastic customers, wonderful colleagues and amazing pets who have  touched my heart.

Yes, I am an animal lover.

And so is my whole family. For years, my wife, Caryn, has donated countless hours to helping animals in need. And, as a company, we’ve found many ways to help our four-legged friends.

I am especially proud of “APL Days of Summer Delivered by Panera Bread,” an initiative we held this past summer with the Cleveland Animal Protective League, Cleveland APL.

As part of our efforts to increase awareness for our new Panera delivery service in Northeast Ohio, we decided to partner with the Cleveland APL. 

We contributed $1 to the Cleveland APL for every delivery order completed  between July 1 and July 21. I am happy to say that our delivery service was spectacularly popular and we raised more than  $9,000 for the Cleveland APL  from that delivery promotion.  

But we didn’t stop there. Through our Operation Dough-Nation collection canisters, we raised additional funds in July and August. We presented a check to the Cleveland APL  for $24,588 during the organization’s September Telethon.

I am proud of that check, the vision, and caring that my colleagues and our customers displayed. And I am equally proud of our Panera team members who have been volunteering with the Cleveland APL.  

The Cleveland APL leadership explained to us how our partnership has helped the organization make a difference for more than 14,000 animals they serve each year. The APL rescues animals from abuse and neglect; helps good pet owners who are down on their luck; and finds thousands of animals the loving families they deserve.

It is absolutely wonderful to know that our success with our Panera Bread restaurants is helping worthy organizations like the Cleveland APL to continue to do great and important work.

Speaking for my entire family and all of my colleagues, including those with four legs, I want to thank everyone for supporting the Cleveland APL and Panera Bread in what was a gratifying and important initiative.