(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.