Serving Up Hope to Kids and Families
With help from its associates and guests, Panda Express is sharing good fortune—and providing generous support—for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
By Katie Sweeney
The Thursday lunch rush is just getting started at Panda Express, and a line of people is slowly snaking around the glass display case of food. But above the lunchtime chatter and the hissing and steaming of giant black woks, you can hear something else: the quick, cheery double-ping of a call bell.
The half-dome, stainless steel bell sits by the register and is a tradition at Panda Express—celebrating each time a guest decides to donate to Panda Cares®, the company’s philanthropic arm. On this day, the bell is ringing every couple of minutes, with nearly every guest choosing to chip in rounded-up change, $1 or even $2.
Together, these seemingly small donations have been adding up to a big impact for the community—and for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
“We call it the Bell of Hope because in the hospital, when a child finishes a lifesaving treatment, they get to ring a bell,” explains Tina Hsing, Director of Panda Cares. “So when our associate asks for that donation, and our guest is inspired to say yes, we ring the bell. It symbolizes that a child gets to go home, that we’re impacting a child’s life.”
Since 2003, Panda Express has raised more than $19 million for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles through Panda Cares. But the company’s latest endeavor is even bigger: In 2020, the foundation pledged another $20 million to establish the Panda Cares Center of Hope™ at CHLA. The Center supports a wide variety of programs and services that provide compassionate and healing care for patients and families.
“Panda Express is one of our largest corporate partners and one of our most devoted,” says Lara Khouri, MBA, MPH, Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “I am deeply grateful not only for their ongoing commitment and vision, but also for their passion. Their whole team is truly dedicated to helping us create hope and build healthier futures for children.”
The spirit of giving has long been ingrained in the Panda Express culture. Led by co-Founders and co-CEOs Andrew and Peggy Cherng, the company established Panda Cares in 1999, with 100% of donations benefiting the community. The driving organizational principle behind it? “Good fortune is best when shared.”
“To have a large company like Panda Express recognize the value of emotional well-being is really impressive and very exciting.”
— Carol Hamamoto
Manager, Child Life Program, CHLA
The foundation’s main focus is to support the health and education needs of underserved youth. That mission—and the company’s Los Angeles roots (the first Panda Express opened in Glendale in 1983)—made Children’s Hospital Los Angeles a natural partner. Although Panda Cares now supports more than 130 pediatric hospitals across North America through Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, CHLA was the first.
“Children’s Hospital Los Angeles shares the same vision as Panda, the same mission of helping to better the lives of children,” Hsing says. “When we see the hospital’s world-class care, and the impact it has on families year after year, we want to keep supporting it.”
Over the past two decades, that support from Panda Cares has ranged from a $100,000 gift in 2003 to a $10 million gift in 2017 to name the sixth floor of the Marion and John E. Anderson Pavilion—and even a special panda sculpture that resides in the Emergency Department. Other donations include books and coloring sheets for hospitalized children (featuring a panda dot-to-dot and a fortune cookie game), as well as food and personal protective equipment during the pandemic.
Panda’s latest pledge for the Center of Hope—part of a nationwide initiative with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals—focuses on four key pillars of pediatric health: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. The funding supports services such as social-emotional programs like music and art therapy, pet therapy, Child Life, the Literally Healing reading program, Spiritual Care Services and more.
“These services are critical to helping us tend to the well-being of children and their families, in addition to their medical treatment,” says Alexandra Carter, CHLA Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer. “This significant commitment from Panda Cares will help ensure that our hospital can continue to provide the compassionate, family-centered care that is so vital to children’s healing.”
Carol Hamamoto, Manager of the Child Life Program at CHLA, sees the impact of these services every day. “It’s so important to promote positive coping and help children and families process what they’re experiencing in the hospital,” she says. “To have a large company like Panda Express recognize the value of emotional well-being is really impressive and very exciting.”
Although Panda Express collects in-store donations for Panda Cares daily, its efforts to support CHLA particularly shine during Make March Matter—the hospital’s month-long fundraising drive with local businesses. The company has been the top fundraiser since the annual campaign began in 2016.
“The Panda Express associates are incredible ambassadors for CHLA.”
— Nancy Lee, MSN, RN, NEA-BC
Senior Vice President, Chief Nursing
Officer and Chief Clinical Officer, CHLA
Nancy Lee, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, Senior Vice President, Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Clinical Officer for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, dines at her local Panda Express every March—and is amazed at what she sees.
“The Panda Express associates are incredible ambassadors for CHLA, asking all the guests who visit the restaurant if they’d like to donate and support the hospital,” Lee says. “It’s like they’re a part of our fundraising team—and in many ways, they are.”
Many associates chip in themselves, donating part of their paychecks once a year to Panda Cares. They also give their time—volunteering at food donation events, Boys and Girls Clubs and at the Panda Cares Charity Golf Invitational, a fundraising event with business partners that benefits Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and other organizations. And this past August, the team celebrated Panda Cares Day at CHLA—delivering chocolate-covered fortune cookies to patients, families and staff.
“Our associates are so passionate about supporting Children’s Hospital Los Angeles,” Hsing says. “If I ask for volunteers, everybody says yes. If I ask for a donation, they say yes. It goes back to our company culture. It’s not just about making our signature dishes. It’s about bettering others’ lives.”
Lee is so impressed with their dedication that, during the annual Make March Matter campaign, she often passes out an array of CHLA-branded items such as hats and stickers to associates at her local Panda Express.
“It’s pretty cool to see all these people helping to raise funds for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles,” she says. “I just want to recognize all of them, and say thank you.”
Four years ago, Terrance and his wife, Jamie, were on a family vacation in Hawaii when they began to worry about their 6-year-old daughter, Kenzie.
“She was losing a lot of weight,” remembers Terrance, Purchasing Operations Manager for Panda Restaurant Group. “And she was incredibly thirsty all the time.”
Jamie, who has Type 1 diabetes, recognized the signs, and shortly after they arrived home, Kenzie was diagnosed with the disease—a lifelong condition where the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Devastated, Jamie and Terrance began looking for the best possible care and support. Their research pointed them to one place: Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
It was a place Terrance had been supporting for years through the Panda Cares® foundation. He’s volunteered at the Panda Cares Charity Golf Invitational since joining the company 19 years ago, and he participates every year in the Associate Giving Campaign. CHLA benefits from both fundraisers.
After Kenzie’s diagnosis, he and Jamie met Jennifer Raymond, MD, MCR, Chief of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism—and experienced firsthand the kind of leading-edge and family-centered care that CHLA provides.
“I had no clue how to manage carbs, give insulin—none of it,” Terrance says. “Dr. Raymond and her team have been so good at teaching me and providing care and valuable instruction to both of us. They’ve gotten Kenzie on a routine that is pretty much saving her life.”
Jamie adds that she particularly appreciates the nurse educators and the dedicated dietitian—as well as some of the extra, child-friendly touches CHLA provides.
“After every appointment, Dr. Raymond offers Kenzie a little toy from a cabinet,” Jamie says. “It’s such a small thing, but it makes a huge difference for a child who has to go to the doctor on a regular basis. She knows there’s a silver lining at the end.”
The biggest silver lining? Kenzie is doing great. Now 10, the fifth grader loves riding horses, tap dancing, swimming and drawing. Last year, she received a “Most Inspirational Student” award from the City of Long Beach. Several teachers and parents nominated her, impressed with her ability to manage her diabetes and school life so successfully.
For Terrance, his personal experience at CHLA gives him one more reason to support Panda Cares.
“I’ve always felt very fortunate to work for Panda, where it’s all about giving back and paying it forward,” Terrance says. “To be able to support Children’s Hospital Los Angeles through Panda, that’s like icing on a cake. It’s just a great feeling.”
How you can help
To help support Children's Hospital Los Angeles, please visit CHLA.org/Donate.