Pink Ribbon Bagel Campaign Kicks Off Ahead of Panerathon

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Phoebe Breckenridge’s involvement with the Panerathon goes back to high school, when she would volunteer for the event.  

She later interned at Mercy Health for two years while she was a student at Youngstown State University, specifically assigned to the annual event, working with sponsors and volunteers. When she began working at JAC Management Group, which manages the Covelli Center where the Panerathon is held, she helped out on the course. 

“Watching the team that puts it on actually made me want to go into marketing,” Breckenridge said. 

The Panerathon takes place Sunday in downtown Youngstown. It is part of Breckenridge’s responsibilities as marketing director for JAC Management and JAC Live. JAC Management always has been involved through the Covelli Centre but JAC Live is taking over production of the event. 

Panerathon is Warren-based Covelli Enterprises’ annual fundraiser to support the work of the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center. This year it coincides with Breast Cancer Awareness Month and with the Pink Ribbon Bagel sale campaign – marking its 20th year – at Panera Bread cafes, which also raise funds for the Abdu Center. 

“We are so thankful and humbled that we are able to come together again for the Valley’s largest fundraising event,” Sam Covelli, owner/operator of Covelli Enterprises, said in a news release. “We are so grateful to our participants, sponsors, volunteers and supporters who have been loyal to our cause over the past 12 years, even when our event went virtual in 2020. We continue to show the world the strength, resolve, and unity of the people of our Mahoning Valley.”

The Pink Ribbon Bagel campaign kicked off Friday. 

“It’s amazing. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years and still going strong,” said Danielle Covelli, marketing director for Covelli Enterprises. 

On hand for the pink ribbon bagel kickoff were (back row) Danielle Covelli, Brian Bean, Kristen Inburgia, Danielle Haren, Joyce Mayer, Abigail Fink, (front row) Chloe Woodward and Desi Pavlick.

The company, which is Panera Bread’s largest franchisee, has donated more than $6.5 million to local organizations that support the fight against breast cancer in the markets that Covelli-owned Panera Bread cafes operate, she reported.  

This year, to mark the 20th year of the fundraiser, Covelli Enterprises will donate 20 cents from the sale of each of the specialty bagels to the Abdu Center.

Typically, the Austintown Panera leads the market in sales of the Pink Ribbon bagels. The café is expected to sell anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 of the bagels.

The effort will be led by the café’s new general manager, Danielle Haren. She took over recently for Joyce Mayer, who was promoted to director of operations for six stores, including the Austintown location. 

In the lead up to Friday, Haren sent out one of the catering drivers to local banks and car dealerships to drum up support for the campaign. 

Mayer, visiting the Austintown café Friday morning for the start of the campaign, reported her husband had attempted to wake her at 3 a.m., when she normally would get up for the first day of the campaign when she was store manager.

“I wanted to,” she said. “I really wanted to, but I didn’t want to step on anybody’s feet because it’s their baby now.” 

Regardless, Mayer has offered guidance to the six stores she oversees, including advising them to set realistic goals, and called on some of her friends who ordered the promotional bagels in the past.      

“These people are hard-working people and I don’t want to overwhelm them,” she said. She is focusing on making sure the cafés’ employees have fun during the campaign and reinforcing that no matter how hard times are they are doing a good job.   

The Panera cafés are finding staffing to be a challenge, just as other employers are, Covelli said. 

“So we’re trying to make it fun this year,” she agreed. “It’s another thing on their plate, but like Joyce said, we want them to have fun with it.”

This year will be the first time the bagel fundraiser will coincide with Panerathon, which returns as an in-person event after being staged virtually last year because of the pandemic. 

COVID-19 has overshadowed what people with breast cancer are going through, and Panerathon will help drive awareness and the importance of early detection, said Ashlee Mauti, Panerathon coordinator.

“Cancer doesn’t stop because of COVID, so we’re really excited for the community to come together – socially distanced,” Mauti said. 

The new layout at the event site and the incorporation of Raymond John Wean Foundation Park and the Covelli Centre’s new parking lot will help promote social distancing, Breckenridge said. “We’re going to have lots of room for people to spread out so everyone will feel safe,” she pointed out.  

“We want as many people to come down as possible, but the lower than normal expected response will make social distancing at the site easier,” Covelli added.  

Participation will be about half of what it normally is, according to Covelli.  

This year, about 3,500 participants are registered for Sunday, Breckenridge reported. About 80% of the walkers and runners are affiliated with teams. 

The runner packets also will include face masks, Mauti said. Mercy Health also will provide masks and hand sanitizer, and the Youngstown health department will be doing on-site COVID-19 vaccinations. In addition, the Abdu Center’s Joanie on the Go mobile mammography unit will be at the site. 

The largest team is Letts Fight the Fight, with 152 members, followed by Greenwood Chevrolet’s team, with 136, Mauti said. The Letts Fight the Fight team is organized by Jenn Poultney, a vice president at Simon Roofing, in recognition of her sister’s battle against breast cancer. Letts is the sisters’ maiden name. 

Logistics for the event have gone well, benefiting from Breckenridge’s past experience with it, Covelli said. “She really is familiar with the program already and so that was very helpful. This is a transitional year so we’re showing them the [JAC staff] ropes and they’re doing great,” she said. 

“It’s cool to see it from this side, working on the actual production of the event,” Breckenridge said. “That’s what JAC Live does. We’ve brought kind of a fresh perspective to some of the stuff.”

In addition, she said it is a personally important event to her, pointing out that members of her family have been involved with it for years. “I cry every time they sing the National Anthem and it starts. It is really special,” she said. 

The event received strong support from sponsors, Covelli reported. Donating at the Platinum level were Merrill/Jones Wealth Management, PNC Bank and Servpro. Gold sponsors were Trivium Packaging and Gia Russa.   

“Pretty much all of our sponsors that support the event every year have come back, and we’re thankful for that,” she remarked. “Again, it just speaks volumes about the Mahoning Valley and the businesses that are here, just willing to give back every single year.”

Pictured at top: Phoebe Breckenridge, sets up at the Covelli Centre for Sunday’s Panerathon.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.