Panda Restaurant, Inc. Cooks Up a Movable Feast for the Children
Panda Restaurant Group, Inc., the parent company of Panda Inn, Panda Express and Hibachi-San, has lent a helping hand to Hillsides since 2005. Through the collaborative efforts of the company’s philanthropic arm, Panda Cares, and its legal team, the company hosts an annual holiday party for the children in residence at Hillsides. The event includes Panda’s specialty dishes such as orange chicken and fried rice, gifts for the children, a magic show and an appearance of the company’s beloved Panda mascot.
Donna Wanser, vice president of the legal department and her colleague Joanne Castaneda, senior franchise paralegal, started the tradition. When Donna learned about Hillsides, she felt it was a great match for the vision of Panda Cares – helping underserved children – and her own desire to give back to children in foster care. So she, along with Joanne, steered the company’s giving efforts to Hillsides. “I knew I wanted to do something to lift these children’s spirits for the holidays and show that people do care,” she said. “It just felt right.”
Panda Cares provides the food and the magician; the legal team, the volunteers and presents. “There’s never a shortage of willing volunteers,” said Joanne. “People fight to come to this event.” The staff raises the money for the holiday gifts by holding internal fundraisers, then donating the money to Hillsides.
Donna and Joanne make sure to attend every dinner. “To see such heartfelt giving and the smiles on the kids’ faces is so powerful,” said Donna.
Joanne will never forget one year when a little boy wore a pair of shoes way too big for him -- evidence he’d just arrived at Hillsides and was not being provided with the basics at his prior home. “It broke my heart to see him in shoes that didn’t fit, but on the other hand, he seemed so happy we were there that it also touched my heart,” said Joanne. “A holiday dinner may not be a lot to some children, for these kids, it is a lot, and I’m just so glad we can help.”