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More than 37 million people in America are currently going without some meals, and Feeding America estimates that 17.1 additional Americans could do so over the next six months because of the economic shutdown forced by the pandemic.
#SeeAPlateFillAPlate, a movement in partnership with Feeding America, is attempting to change that by not only helping to meet the unprecedented demand for food but raising awareness of the problem.
"The health crisis is becoming a financial and humanitarian crisis very quickly," Panera CEO Niren Chaudhary told FOX Business. "We feel that our brand -- and we as human beings -- have a responsibility to step up and be a part of the solution."
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented demand for food assistance but with a lack of volunteers and supplies, food banks around the nation are struggling to keep up, leaving many worried about when they'll eat next. At least 1 in 7 Americans are out of work.
With a $3 donation to Together Without Hunger, participants can help provide freshly-prepared meals made by Panera Bakery cafes all across the nation for children and families going hungry.
Donors are then encouraged to spread the word by decorating an empty plate and sharing a selfie with it alongside the hashtag #SeeAPlateFillAPlate on Instagram. The post should include five tagged friends who are encouraged to do the same.
“We simply can’t ignore what is happening in all of our communities -- in some places, the need is growing by up to 50 percent,” said Sara Burnett, Panera's vice president of wellness and food policy.
Panera has already pledged to donate half a million freshly prepared meals, which include sandwiches, an apple and chips, to Feeding America food banks nationwide with the support of philanthropic partner DKMS, a nonprofit with a long-standing commitment to supporting children.
"How we treat our customers and associates at this time will, in turn, reflect how they treat us" when the pandemic subsides, Chaudhary added.
Panera's bakery-cafes around the nation will prepare the meals five days a week and deliver 400 meals to Feeding America food banks daily for the next three weeks until they hit the 500,000 mark.
Although Panera isn't financially benefitting from the movement, Burnett told FOX Business that it gives the company the opportunity to keep staff employed at a time when job security is low.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.