Couple to Cap Wedding Day with Benefit for Amanda the Panda

Jennifer Rhoads and Clark Smith know what it’s like to live through the loss of a spouse – and to have the fortune to find love again. They will celebrate that love on their May 19th wedding day by hosting Panda Palooza, an event to benefit the grief support services provided by EveryStep Grief & Loss Services' Amanda the Panda program.

Rhoads and Smith felt moved to host the charity event because they and their three daughters had experienced the care and support offered by EveryStep and the Amanda the Panda program. 

As they planned their blended life together, Rhoads and Smith knew they wanted to give back to the programs that had helped them during difficult times.

“We had decided early on that we wanted to support Amanda the Panda,” Smith says.

In lieu of wedding gifts, the couple has asked wedding guests to give a gift to Amanda the Panda. And, with Brenton Skating Plaza already serving as the venue for their wedding reception, the couple decided to add even more meaning to an important day by hosting an evening charity event. 

“Right away, Amanda the Panda came up as our charity of choice,” Rhoads says. “We thought, ‘let’s give the gift of an event,’” Rhoads says.

Panda Palooza will feature two live bands – The Candymakers and Faculty Lounge, snacks from Christiani’s, local beers from Confluence and Firetrucker, and a cash bar. Smith and Rhoads are grateful to additional local businesses who are supporting the event, including Spindustry Digital, give., Allspice, O’Donnell & Friends Open and Atlantic Coca-Cola Bottling.

Clark Smith owns Butler House on Grand, a Des Moines bed and breakfast with a long and rich history. He and his late wife Lauren purchased the property in the mid-90s. In 2016, following a lengthy battle with cancer, Lauren Smith spent her final days at EveryStep's Kavanagh House on 56th Street.

Jennifer Rhoads, a 20+ year employee of Principal, and her late husband Alexander founded Allspice Culinarium, a store in Des Moines’ East Village specializing in culinary herbs, spices, oils and vinegars. In 2012, following Alexander’s sudden death, Rhoads and her daughter participated in Amanda the Panda’s camp and support group.

Rhoads says what she and her daughter experienced through Amanda the Panda’s services – at Camp Amanda the Panda and at support group meetings – helped them better understand the grieving process.

“We just knew it was a place where we could gain some insights and learn, both individually and together, in a healthy way,” Rhoads says. “We felt surrounded by love and other people who could relate to our situation.”

EveryStep Grief & Loss Services' Amanda the Panda program offers peer-to-peer support via age-specific activities. Amanda the Panda’s grief support services are provided at no cost to participants.