Covelli, Mercy Prepare for Virtual Panerathon Saturday

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Although the coronavirus put a damper on the traditional Panerathon, an outpouring of public support convinced Covelli Enterprises to stage a virtual version of the event.

Warren-based Covelli Enterprises, which operates more than 300 Panera Bread bakery-cafes in eight states, and Mercy Health Foundation announced in June that they decided to cancel this year’s 2020 Panerathon, which is a major source of financial support for the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center at Mercy Health – St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital.

Instead of the traditional event, which was scheduled for Aug. 30, the two organizations will host a virtual Panerathon 10K and two-mile walk-run this Saturday. The public can participate in either event for free but also is invited to purchase a “Panerathon Strong” T-shirt, printed by Knightline Embroidery and Screenprint in Girard, for $25.

When the decision was made to cancel this year’s in-person Panerathon, which last year had 11,000 participants and raised more than $525,000, there were no plans to hold a virtual event.

“The energy on site is something that’s hard to duplicate,” said Ashlee Mauti, marketing director for Covelli Enterprises. The decision to cancel made sense but Covelli and Mercy Health officials didn’t anticipate the “outpouring of support” from past participants and sponsors.

“When we canceled the Panerathon due to the pandemic, we never imagined we would receive so much support. The community really pushed for the virtual event as a way to show their continued support,” said Sam Covelli owner of Covelli Enterprises. 

Gina Marinelli, senior gifts officer at Mercy Health Foundation Mahoning Valley, said she agreed with the decision to cancel the Aug. 30 event. Special events are held for survivors and current cancer patients who often have compromised immune systems that would have provided a challenge for attending the Panerathon.

That said, the public response that led to planning the virtual event didn’t surprise her. Panerathon participants and sponsors “really believe in the cause,” she said.

“That cause keeps them coming back every year,” she remarked.

“We’re glad that we were able to pull something off,” said Candice Madden, grant manager and Panerathon coordinator for Mercy Health Youngstown Mahoning Valley. “With the uncertainty of everything that’s happened, we wanted to create some sense of awareness of Panerathon and the Abdu Center. This seemed to be the best way that we could do that.”

The Panerathon is “a key fundraising arm” for the center, Marinelli said. It funds Joanie’s Promise, which provides free mammograms for low-income women, a community educator who goes into urban and rural areas, and transportation services for patients.

Ted Rupe and his company, Gopher Running, which manages several races in northeastern Ohio including Panerathon, volunteered to design the 10K and two-mile courses, Mauti said. Both run through Mill Creek Park.

“We were happy that Gopher Running and Knightline stepped up to help make that a reality,” Covelli said. “That’s what I love about the Valley — people are always willing to help.”  

Whether they have purchased a shirt or not, runners can log their times at the Panerathon website. If they prefer not to use the designated courses, they can run in their neighborhoods or another location and log their times.

The event organizers made participating in the event free because so many people who want to support the event are dealing with hardships during the pandemic, Mauti said. “There’s still an option to donate,” she added.

“A lot of the participants were grateful that we were doing something,” Madden said. “This is still a way that you can feel you’re part of a community event in just a little bit of a different way.”

People have until Saturday to register and purchase a shirt, which will be mailed to them, Mauti said. Race results will be posted on the event website.

Also Saturday, work will begin on the 2021 Panerathon, she reported. Registration on the website is already live.

Not having the event this year in its traditional form, in which thousands of participants and others converge on downtown Youngstown, won’t cause it to lose any of its luster, Marinelli said.

“People will be even happier to be here next year,” she predicted.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.