Walk into the newest member at 3 Center Plaza in Government Center and you’ll notice a familiar atmosphere of breads and soups and a menu you love, but people greet you and explain that it’s not exactly the same.
On January 23, the first Panera Cares Café opened up in Government Center in Boston. It’s now the fifth in the country along with one in Portland, Oregon, Clayton, Missouri, Dearborn, Michigan, and Chicago, Illinois.
Panera Cares Café is a non-profit community café of shared responsibility run by the Panera Bread Foundation, according to a pamphlet. Their main goal is to fight food insecurity, or hunger. According to a Panera Cares pamphlet, 1 in 6 people are hungry today. The customer can make a donation on the normal amount for their food, a lesser amount, or no donation at all. Later, vouchers will be an option so that a customer can work off their meal through volunteering in the café, according to a greeter.
Founder of Panera Cares Café, Ron Shaich, says that Boston symbolizes a lot to Panera.
“Boston is home for me and for the company,” said Shaich. He goes on to say that his first store was in Downtown Crossing in 1980 and was known as the Cookie Jar. Then it changed to Au Bon Pain which Shaich co-founded and finally Panera.
For his son Michael, 13, the location is great because it’s his hometown, but also for greater reasons.
“Because there are people in need right here and then there are people in the office buildings who are fortunate enough to pay,” said Michael Shaich.
However, there are rules put into place in order to prevent people from taking advantage, according to Project Manager, Kate Antonacci.
“We put mechanisms in place with limiting the amount of times people can come in without contributing the full suggested amount,” said Antonacci.
The main concern of the café is to create a dignified atmosphere in which people can contribute whatever they have. With the volunteer program, which will be available in the next month, people can ask to talk to the manager of the program and then volunteer their time for one hour. The duties include cleaning, bussing tables, and cleaning windows. At the end of the hour, the volunteer receives a food voucher which they can use on their next visit.
“We put that program in place as a means for someone to contribute to the café even if they can’t do so monetarily,” said Antonacci.
Gina Cruse, an MBTA worker and Boston resident thinks it’s a wonderful idea and is a great way to support the community as well as give back to it.
“I think it’s great for society with the way the economy is and for the community to give back a little,” said Cruse.
Steve Lovering of Boston also enjoys the café.
“The food was great. I think the people are great. I think it really helps out the community and those in need,” said Lovering.
Ben Godfrey who works as an ambassador explaining to customers what the Panera Cares Café is said that he has one favorite saying at the job.
“One of my favorite sayings here is ‘We’re a hand up, not a hand out,” said Godfrey. He explains that the café is a place to help people who need a hand up in life.
For Carrie of Arlington who has been unemployed since 2010, it is a huge help.
“They just saved me some very important money right now,” said Carrie. “I’m going to have a fresh meal tonight.”