Panera Cafes Kick Off ‘Pieces of Hope’ Campaign

NILES, Ohio – Covelli Enterprises’ annual “Pieces of Hope” fundraiser at its Panera Bread bakery-cafes raises community awareness of autism as it provides money to support local programs.

The annual cookie sale kicked off Monday and runs through April 9. The cookies are $1.99 each and all proceeds at the Panera Breadcafes Covelli operates in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys benefit the Rich Center for Autism at Youngstown State University and, for the second year, Potential Development.

“We are thrilled to continue our Pieces of Hope for Autism campaign with both schools,” Sam Covelli, president of Covelli Enterprises, said in a statement. “Not only do our customers say the cookies are delicious, but the campaign allows us to make a direct positive impact on families we serve here in the Valley.”

In addition to proceeds from the week-long sale, the cafes are collecting donations in cash boxes at the registers that will also be donated to the two schools.

“Six years ago, I don’t think a lot of people talked about [autism],” Ashlee Mauti, Covelli director of marketing, said during Monday.

Covelli and his director of corporate affairs, Allen Ryan, conceived the campaign, Mauti said. “They wanted to do something with autism awareness,” she said.

The cookie is a flat, square object decorated with a puzzle-piece decal. The cookies in the early years, formed by cookie cutters and shaped like puzzle pieces, were red, yellow and blue to reflect the colors of the Rich Center’s logo, she said.

After the first three years of the campaign, Covelli switched to the simpler flat cookie decorated with sprinkles that didn’t break as easily as the puzzle shapes. The decoration was changed in 2016 to reflect Panera’s food policy, which prohibits items with artificial ingredients, preservatives and dyes.

“The community loved the cookie, maybe because we only have it for seven days, but they were really receptive,” Mauti said.

Last year, Potential Development received just over $13,000, “which was great,” said Paul Garchar, executive director.

“Money like that is not earmarked. So it gives us the flexibility to fill the gaps wherever we need it,” he said. Last year, the funds were dedicated to classroom supplies and to ensure that students have good access to technology, he added.

The Rich Center, which received $15,000 last year, also dedicated those funds to technology upgrades, by purchasing iPads and apps for students, said its executive director, Melanie Carfolo.

“Some of those apps run $300,” she said. This year any funds the center receives will go toward funding occupational, speech and language therapies for students.

On Monday, representatives of both schools visited businesses in the Mahoning Valley where they had people take photos with the cookies to post on social media with the hashtag #everycookiecounts.

“That’s been kind of fun, and that’s just another way to show awareness,” Carfolo said.

Over the past six years, the cookie sale campaign has raised more than $1.2 million in Covelli-owned Panera cafes in its many markets and $100,000 locally, according to the company.

Pictured: Ashlee Mauti, Caitlin Mead, Brian Champion and Harley Shandel at the Panera Bread store in Niles.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.