Do you have memories of going to camp? The experience is even more special for children living with cancer, thanks to Camp Smile-A-Mile in Birmingham, Alabama. The camp is a year-round program for current or former cancer patients up to 30 years of age. And through Panera Bread’s support, more kids can paddle canoes, play softball…enjoy the simple pleasures of camp at an otherwise difficult time.
Camp Smile-A-Mile began in 1985 and now hosts at least one family activity each month at a site on Lake Martin. From May to September, the camp offers seven more traditional camping sessions, including weekend camps and two weeklong summer camps. Each year, more than 400 children participate, and during some sessions, siblings of cancer patients attend as well.
“Camp Smile-A-Mile offers a chance for the kids to be with others who are going through the same thing,” says Stephanie Wilkins, community relations manager at Camp Smile-A-Mile.
There are water sports, arts and crafts, and (of course) campfires with marshmallows. But Camp Smile-A-Mile goes way beyond a typical camp experience by helping the children deal with their diagnosis and treatment, and by providing support to their families. On-site pediatric oncology doctors and nurses help take care of any medical needs during the kids’ stay. And even more amazing, it’s all free for the families.
“We are a nonprofit that stands alone with no federal or state funding, and our support from Panera helps us send more kids to camp,” says Wilkins. Camp Smile-A-Mile is Panera’s Operation Dough-Nation® Community Breadbox™ partner in Birmingham. The idea is simple. Donation containers are placed near the registers in all bakery-cafes for customers to contribute. Panera Bread then matches a portion of the donations and distributes the money to local charities. The impact for Camp Smile-A-Mile has been big: Bakery-cafes and their customers in the greater Birmingham and Tuscaloosa area have given the camp more than $13,000 since 2009.
But the support for Camp Smile-A-Mile goes deeper than funds. Last year, for example, about a half dozen Panera Bread associates brought lunch to 150 kids and staff at the camp and were rewarded with a tour and meeting with campers and staff.
“To be with the campers and see the joy in their faces was a really, really great experience,” says Amanda Harnish, Panera Bread local marketing manager.