Local volunteers bake up plan with Panera Bread for a good cause
Three years, twelve men, and countless loaves of bread: the “Doughboys” of Cherokee County, a group of seniors from the Soleil community, have dedicated their mornings to delivering leftover loaves and pastries from Panera Bread to charities around the county. These “dough-nations,” as coined by Panera, go to support MUST Ministries, Goshen Valley Boys Ranch, and the North Georgia Angel House, and with each delivery, lives are changed.
“I am so touched by the looks on the girls’ faces at Angel House,” recalls Fred Weems, the “chief Doughboy.” “When we bring that bread in, especially the pastries, they automatically smile and perk up.”
The bread-winning idea arose when Fred, Gary Selden, and Don Converse met at Panera Bread, and they noticed leftover bread sitting out. The three talked with the workers and came up with a program to deliver the bread to charities and shelters across Cherokee County. A few text messages and phone calls later, the Doughboys grew into a crew of twelve, all dedicated to delivering bread every single day. Three years later and even through the pandemic, the Doughboys remained consistent and have earned their own honorary Panera Bread hats.
“For the guys it’s not ‘if I can make it,’ it’s always ‘I’ll be there,’” says Fred. “I never have to pick up the phone to remind them. They don’t look at this like it’s work, but like it’s a labor of love.”
The Doughboys have their process down to a science. After store closing time, the cashiers at Panera Bread wrap, inventory, and organize the leftover bread and pastries and sort them into boxes. The next morning, from as early as 6:30 a.m., any of the twelve Doughboys scheduled for the day load the boxes and drive them to the charities.
Sourdough bread bowls, cookies, muffins, cinnamon rolls, classic white miche sandwich bread: the Doughboys deliver it all. Michael Tabor, the manager of Panera Bread on Main Street in Canton, says, “Some days we have small loads, some days we have big loads, but being able to give them something every day, the dependability we show, that’s what really counts.” On average each delivery consists of three to five large boxes, which amount to around ten loaves of bread and twenty to fifty baked goods.
Fred schedules the drivers and their accompanying backup a month in advance. The twelve men plan their own days, making time in their mornings to deliver the baked goods. The reward? A paycheck in smiles. Fred says that the best reward he and his fellow Doughboys get is the happiness that comes with giving back to their community. Fred is a veteran, and he remarks that any way to help veterans in need is especially impactful, such as through MUST Ministries.
MUST Ministries, the Angel House, and Goshen Valley Boys Ranch have seen countless Doughboys deliveries come through their doors, yet the daily delivery always manages to bring smiles. The friendships formed among the Doughboys, the volunteers and people at the shelters, and the workers at Panera motivate the men to keep working, Fred remarks. Three years of deliveries with a mostly unchanged group of volunteers has brought the men closer together. He says, “We are a team. We do this as a team. Whenever we see each other at social events, we always ask each other, ‘How’s the bread going?’”
(L-R): Bob Rose, Steve Agocs, John Amones, and Panera Bread Manager Michael Tabor
(L-R): Rob Kraus, Don Converse, Ed Hill, John Wolcott, and Tom Wise
(L-R): Panera Bread Associate Anjalay Studdard, Gary Selden, Panera Bread Associate Courtney Moss, and Fred Weems
Not pictured: Bruce Digby and Tom Reynolds
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Makenzie Bird is a Cherokee County resident and intern with Enjoy Cherokee. She is the editor of Cherokee High School’s student newspaper and a communications alumni of the Governor’s Honors Program. In the community, Makenzie is involved with youth leadership opportunities with the school board and the public library system.