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Paying it forward at Panera Bread

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You may have enjoyed lunch or dinner at your local Panera Bread. In many Panera locations, free Wi-Fi service is available too.

Panera Bread offers bagels and breakfast sandwiches, soup and paninis and lots of great pastries and sweets. Some locations also offer the convenience of drive-thru window service.

Anything you can order from the menu inside can be purchased at the drive-thru window. When the newest Panera opened in our city with a drive-thru, I figured the service might be too slow to use at lunchtime.

I've been pleasantly surprised at how quickly your food is ready at the Panera drive-thru. I generally order a cup of soup and half a sandwich from Panera's 'You Pick 2' menu.

Just as when you order inside at Panera, the food is ready in about 5 minutes when you order at the drive-thru. On a recent day, I drove through the window for soup and a sandwich at Panera.

There were already several cars in line so it took a bit longer than usual. I reached the window after about 8 minutes. The server at the window told me, "Your order is $10.27, but the woman in front of you paid 5 dollars so you only owe $5.27."

I was pleasantly surprised. What a treat to have a stranger pay it forward. As I paid my balance, I asked the server to put an additional 5 dollars on my bill for the next car in line.

Paying it forward is a random act of kindness you can do for a stranger anywhere. Paying it forward has become a way of life for some people.

Although many ways of paying it forward involve using your money to pay for someone else's service, you can also pay it forward by holding the door open for a stranger or visiting someone who's sick.

When you pay it forward, you brighten someone's day and receive the blessing of knowing that you helped someone else. If you're really lucky, the next person will pay it forward too.

Paying it forward is showing up in many places including the grocery store, convenience stores, hospitals, roads and even on Facebook.

Paying it forward doesn't cost a lot. It's pretty easy to do. Just give a smile or a kind word to someone you meet today. Go out of your way to hold the door open for a stranger whose hands are full.

Speak kindly to those who you encounter. Donate items to a homeless shelter or food bank. Let a car out in front of you in a parking lot. Wait for someone crossing the street.

To the person who paid it forward for me at Panera, thank you. I don't know if anyone behind me in line also paid it forward and that doesn't matter. The small act of kindness brightened my day and hopefully that of the next person.

If the opportunity arises in your life, take the time to pay it forward today. You may start a new trend of kindness and generosity.

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