In early 2020, Panda Express was forced to close 400 of its 2,000 restaurants. But co-founders Peggy and Andrew Cherng doubled down on giving back. In addition to returning a $10 million federal paycheck protection program loan in the hopes that more support would be diverted to smaller, independent restaurants, the Cherngs donated more than 5 million pieces of personal protective equipment to local hospitals in need, including Phoenix Children’s.

Here, we chat with Peggy Cherng on all things giving, from that pandemic donation to the recent establishment of the Panda Cares Center of Hope.

Over the past 20+ years, your charitable organization Panda Cares has raised $212 million for health, education and disaster relief. Why is philanthropy so integral to your business model?

PC: Andrew and I came to the U.S. for a chance at a better education and a better life. Our company mission of inspiring better lives stemmed from our journey of humble beginnings to where we are now with Panda—none of which would have been possible without the support of others. It only seemed natural for us to give back once we were able, and that’s when we started Panda Cares in 1999. Staying true to our values has really helped us grow as a Panda family and keep our mission of inspiring better lives at the top of mind in everything that we do.

What drew you to Phoenix Children’s as a charitable partner?

PC: Children are our future! And in order for them to reach their greatest potential, they need to be healthy, happy and have resources to learn and develop. Knowing that Phoenix Children’s works to deliver best-in-class care to children and families who need it has truly inspired us over the years, so it was a simple decision. And as a family-owned and -operated business with a strong community of guests and associates in Phoenix, the impact that Phoenix Children’s has on the immediate area is not lost on us.

Panda Cares donated more than $121,000 worth of personal protective equipment to Phoenix Children’s in May of 2020. What inspired this gift?

PC: Giving back to the communities we serve has never been more important than in this extreme time of need. So many essential workers have put their own lives on the line, including members of the Phoenix Children’s community, and we wanted to help keep these heroes safe and show our sincere support and gratitude. This is a small act in comparison to the sacrifices they have made during this pandemic.

Tell us about the recent establishment of the Panda Cares Center of Hope to support family-centered care at Phoenix Children’s. What will this gift bring to the hospital?

PC: We believe in the whole-person paradigm—which is physical, mental, emotional and spiritual growth. With Panda Cares Center of Hope, we want to create a safe and comforting place where kids can be kids again, where children learn through play to improve self-expression and enjoy moments in time despite their illness. When we can help children achieve a sense of well-being, we can deliver much-needed relief not only to the child, but to the entire family.

What message would you share with our community about your work?

PC: An important philosophy I have is to think about love as an action. Love is about working harder, being more accepting and growing personally, so that you can be the best version of yourself and in turn become a role model for others.

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