Newnan, Georgia, is a small town of about 22,000 located 45 minutes south of downtown Atlanta. And like many communities these days, some people there are out of work and struggling financially.
Panera Bread® associate Kimberly McElroy witnessed this situation firsthand. She works in the catering department at the bakery-cafe on Bullsboro Drive in Newnan. Every day as McElroy and her team of Panera Bread associates made their deliveries throughout the area, they saw the need. But instead of just driving past the rougher neighborhoods with their windows rolled up and doors locked, they got an idea.
“They asked if it would be possible to feed a needy family every day for the entire holiday season,” says Larry Underwood, an operating partner of six Panera Bread bakery-cafes in the Atlanta metro area, including the one in Newnan. “My general manager, Anastasia Held, and I immediately said, ‘Let’s go for it.’”
McElroy and her team worked with local churches and community groups to identify 32 worthy recipients and families. Each day from November 29 through December 30, they’re providing a full Panera Bread meal of soup, salad, sandwiches, and dessert to the underprivileged.
“We’re not just sending gift cards either,” points out Underwood. “We’re personally delivering the meals and getting to know the people.”
Although the “Home for the Holidays” program, as it’s been dubbed, is only operating out of the Newnan location right now, Underwood says he’d like to see it adopted by other Panera Bread bakery-cafes, both local and national.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who can’t afford to be regular Panera Bread customers,” he says, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t reach out to them and share some of our great food and warmth.”