Regarding Panera, the manager I spoke with explained that it depends on whether the store is a franchise or a corporate location. The franchises make independent decisions; the corporate locations go through "DoughNation": www.panerabread.com/about/community/.
I submitted online in November and haven't heard back yet.
I also submitted an online request to Noodles & Co in mid-November with no response yet: www.noodles.com/home/aboutus/community/d...s.aspx?showhtml=true
Chipotle said no (although we received a donation last year--perhaps they don't give every year)?
Does anyone have experience with the Soaring Adventures hot air balloon ride? This is a deal in which they sell a 2-person and 4-person ride for a "nonprofit" price, and you can pocket whatever it fetches over that cost. They throw in a free one-person ride, no strings attached. There's no obligation to purchase the rides if they don't go for the minimum bid and they can be redeemed at quite a few independently-operated locations throughout the country. The one in our area isn't too far away and has a sterling reputation, so I thought we'd give it a try this year. I'd be interested in knowing others' experience with Soaring Adventures.
Our local small theaters and museums have been really great, coming through with tickets to shows or family memberships. A local fitness center donated four 10-pass cards. This is my second year of running a silent auction in a terrible economy, and I've become convinced that volunteer energy is best spent on smaller, local businesses and organizations to which someone in the community has an actual connection. Parents who own businesses or have special skills are also great sources for donations, of course.
Good luck to all!