Chili's Grill & Bar server Denee Perez

In 2007, as Denee Perez drove past the brand new Chili’s Grill & Bar in Tracy, California, a thought struck her: why not stop and pick up an application?

Perez had been out of work for two months and was, in fact, driving home from another job interview when she decided to act on the whim. “I’ve always liked retail and I really like being around people,” she said. “I thought it would be nice to try something new.”

But Perez’s whim has done more than give her something new to try. Since joining the Chili’s team, Perez has been a major contributor to the Chili’s Create-A-Pepper to Fight Childhood Cancer campaign, having raised more than $24,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“Giving back to a charity is important to me,” said the 24-year-old Perez, “especially one like St. Jude. You never know when you or a loved one will need an organization like this. I lost a close friend at the age of 23 to leukemia. It made me realize how important it is to give back to others.”

Hearing the stories of the patients of St. Jude combined with the loss of her friend, Perez was inspired to do all she could to help the hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, in its quest of finding cures and saving children.

During the 2008 Create-A-Pepper campaign, Perez worked diligently to inform her customers about the work of St. Jude and encouraged them to donate. As the youth president for Sociedade Do Espirito Santo do Estado Da California, a community organization for which she volunteers, Perez encouraged the group to hold a charity dinner for St. Jude which raised $13,000.

As a result of her fundraising efforts, Perez was recognized by Chili’s and St. Jude as one of the top three Chili’s employees to raise the most money for St. Jude. Chili’s sent her to Memphis where she could personally present the check for $24,500 to St. Jude officials and tour the facility she had become so dedicated to.

It was a very moving experience, Perez said about touring the hospital and seeing the difference her and her employer have made in the lives of children stricken with cancer and their families. “The commitment Chili’s has made to St. Jude is amazing,” she said. “There are no words I can use to describe what it was like to actually see the Chili’s Care Center firsthand. I think everyone who has the opportunity should tour the hospital.”

And while she knows not everyone will have that opportunity, she hopes to be able to convey the experience to customers during the 2009 campaign and help bring more awareness and support for the hospital.

“I am going to share the joy I felt presenting my check and the amazing things I learned touring the hospital,” she said. “I plan to share the hope that St. Jude offers and to educate people about this wonderful cause. It is so amazing to see how Chili’s is helping touch the lives of so many with this wonderful commitment.”


September 2009