Mom, social worker and entrepreneur Kimberly Luu taps her social network to help others.
Kimberly Luu’s Instagram page portrays a glamorous life. Scrolling through images of fashionable moments interspersed with snapshots from her and her husband’s dessert parlor, Polar Playground in Huntington Beach.
She posts at least one weekly update about her adorable 2-year-old son, who is usually eating pancakes. Based on images alone, an outsider might think Luu’s life is pretty sweet.
Yet, she’s more complex than her social media persona. As a daughter to immigrant parents, she tries to help others by hosting community fundraisers and digital partnerships to raise awareness for causes close to her heart.
In January 2020, she harnessed her social media following and helped a group of OC students in-need. “Being a mom myself,” she says, led her to “have some sympathy towards other families and knowing that all of a sudden everyone’s lives suddenly changed and it affected some people more than others, I just felt compassion. … I shared about it on social media and I donated as well.”
Dana Bui, a teacher at Santiago High School in Garden Grove, became her ally.
“Dana shared how she sees it firsthand. How some people are struggling and some of them had to move out and temporarily live in motels,” she says. “It just touches your heart.
“Even if I could just do a little bit of something to help them. You don’t need to be rich to give,” she adds. “You can still find other ways to help others.”
Their efforts provided 14 families with $50 Grubhub gift cards.
“Kindness spreads,” she says. “I really appreciate having the opportunity to help out.”
Her philanthropic efforts continued with a sweet fundraising idea that aided pediatric cancer research. “Our business [Polar Playground], did a yellow ribbon campaign for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September,” she says. “Customers could add a yellow ribbon to their [cotton candy] character for $1 and we would match whatever was sold during the month of September to St. Jude’s.”
Luu and her husband, Tim Bui, own Polar Playground, a dessert parlor that serves edible cotton candy creations sculpted onsite. The figures are shaped into whimsical characters such as unicorns, minions, teddy bears and Marvel superheroes. The Instagram-able desserts have a sizable social media following on TikTok, too.
The Foodgod and Kim Kardashian West filmed an episode featuring Polar Playground for a Discovery+ show that aired in November 2021. (It will also run on Food Network in 2022.)
“It’s really humbling to see people come out and want to experience the creations. It took some time to create the shop and we definitely appreciate the opportunities we get. Kim Kardashian [West]’s house, that one was pretty cool.”
This celebrity attention allows the couple to bring attention to other causes.
In October 2021, Polar Playground hosted a fundraiser for breast cancer awareness. It’s extremely important to Luu. She was 3 1/2, middle sister, Katherine, was 1 1/2 and the youngest, Susan, was a newborn when their mother succumbed to breast cancer.
“[Susan], she had to be born premature,” recalls Luu. “The doctors said there was a 50/50 chance of survival, the cancer might get to her. So we’re very lucky to have her. They didn’t even think she’d survive, so they didn’t make a birth certificate until a couple months later.”
But, Susan thrived. Now she works as an ICU nurse and helps save lives in Orange County.
“She has a kind, giving heart,” says Luu. “I know my sister [Susan] is even stronger dealing with patients who are being intubated and dealing with this [pandemic] more intensely.”
Luu, who is also a clinical social worker in the acute psychiatric unit of a hospital in Orange County, experienced a wide range of emotions while working during the pandemic.
In 2020, “we just saw the progression of the hospital becoming more COVID-positive,” she recalls. “Then most of the floor became a COVID-19 positive unit. … It was a very scary time for sure and I was very nervous. Just trying to do your work but trying to be cautious as well. We couldn’t go to the floor as often, only more-as-needed situations, to decrease exposure. …. Sometimes it was a lot of work, too, to wear a gown, gloves, tie your hair up, there’s shoe covers that were optional as well. It really taught me time management and how to prioritize your goals for the day. … It was such an unknown time for everyone. Everyone was dealing with it together.”
Luu credits her dad for his resilient example. After losing his wife to breast cancer, her father raised three girls by himself.
“I’m used to seeing my dad doing multiple things and how he balances that out,” she says. “I grew up seeing that and that’s how me and my sisters are, too. We have strong support for each other.”
By Jenn Tanaka