Over the weekend when my wife wanted to escape the East Coast heat wave and eat out in an inexpensive, but air-conditioned location, we ended up at the local Panera. While we were there, she mentioned that Time had just run an article about the chain because of its new, non-profit wing, the Bread Company. This store opened in Clayton, Missouri, and the store offers the option of paying what you can. Intended to help out the hungry but disadvantaged in an affluent St. Louis suburb, the customers are encouraged to pay more, if they able, to support those who can’t afford to pay. To the surprise of those on Wall Street, it seems to be working.
The article states that some wealthy take advantage of the system. No surprise there, we will always have the rich who feel the world owes them still more. Nevertheless, a successful company that offers to feed the hungry who can’t afford it – could this be a Gospel dream come true? It is easy to be cynical when the daily news feeds us a non-stop conveyor belt of corrupt politicians, CEOs greedy beyond the pale of human ambition, and the overall lack of concern among the privileged. Fat guys wearing cufflinks, jowls redolent with satisfaction, stare at the camera and inform us that they know what they are doing. Obviously.
In a nation as religiously inclined but as socially inert as the United States, it does me good to see a wealthy company offering something back to the community. The modest profits from the Bread Company are not channeled back into some executive’s already overstuffed wallet, but into community programs. I’m sure the cynical will say it’s a publicity stunt to win more customers. Perhaps so. Those who need help are nevertheless still able to access it. In a world where something as basic as bread is daily denied from many because those at the top can never have enough, it does my weary eyes a great deal of good to see any company with a modicum of social consciousness succeed.