While on vacation recently in Chicago, Mark and I set out in search of a quick bite of breakfast. We saw the familiar sign for Panera but instead of their normal “Panera Bread” sign, there was a “Panera Cares” sign. Two steps in the door, I figured out what that was all about when a friendly employee greeted us with a smile and welcome to this “non-profit community cafe.” They call it a cafe of “shared responsibility.” Here’s how it works-you go and order just like you would at any other Panera but then the register calculates a “suggested donation level;” those with the means to do so, donate the suggested amount (or even more if able); those with a real need, may donate their fair share; and those without any means are encouraged to donate time volunteering in the cafe. You leave your contribution in a donation bin, you’re on your own honor, and they trust that you’ll do the right thing and share in the responsibility of making sure all receive the bread they need.
After chatting with Bob, the cafe’s manager, I learned that this cafe had only been open a few days and is only the fourth to be opened by Panera nationwide. Their statement of purpose reads, “We exist to feed each and every person who walks through our doors with dignity regardless of their means.” Two of the other three cafes have become profitable: which means that they can live into their non-profit vision of feeding all those who come through their doors regardless of ability to pay as well as use the surplus income above their operating expense to invest back into the community through job training and life-skill training opportunities.
As I sat eating my bagel I read their big banners that said, “We are a cafe of shared responsibility” and “We offer bread to all – those who can afford it, those who need a hand up, & everyone in between.” And I thought to myself, this sounds like church – shared responsibility for one another as the family of God, offering bread to all with dignity and care. It all sounds downright spiritual doesn’t it? Panera has it right with this venture and I wish them success upon success. They’ve not only won some loyalty for their business from me but they’ve also challenged me. Sometimes we get into patterns of faith and church that are just “business as usual.” Sometimes, we need to be reminded of the sacredness of community, reminded to share, and reminded to be generous in the giving and in receiving of bread. For, God has so generously created us, shared with us, and gives to us. I wasn’t expected to enter holy ground when I walked through the doors of Panera Cares but I most certainly did.