Chef to Use Lottery Winnings to Feed Needy in North Carolina and Dominican Republic

Chef Roberto Mendoza certainly has a lot to celebrate these days — and so do those who depend on him for a hot meal.

Chef Roberto Mendoza certainly has a lot to celebrate these days — and so do those who depend on him for a hot meal.

Mendoza is now $250,000 richer, thanks to the North Carolina Education Lottery. He plans to use some of the money to help those in need in Charlotte, as well as those abroad.

Mendoza bought the winning $5 dollar scratch-off ticket after taking his mother's advice.

"When I scratch it, boom!” Mendoza laughed. “You never expect it. Honest to you, you never expect it. Because the stuff that happened, it happened."

Mendoza volunteers every Saturday serving food to those who need it, free of charge. Rain or shine, he is joined by family and volunteers to set up shop on Tyron Street and Phifer Avenue.

“When I come to them and I'm doing it for them, it's like, oh my God. They hug me, they bless me, they play with me so it's a really, really good feeling for them and for me,” Mendoza told

Mendoza’s upbringing in El Salvador sparked his will to help others.

"I grow up without mom and dad. You know, they left me. I was by myself. So I went to bed hungry all day. And like 1 o'clock in the morning, I said, at least a glass of water I'm gonna take. So I opened the faucet and air came out. Because they shut the water off and I start to cry and cry. And said God, when I grow up, I don't wanna suffer for hunger again."

Mendoza emigrated to the U.S., eventually becoming an executive chef at Queens University of Charlotte.

He has also prepared meals for the likes of Marla Maples, Condoleezza Rice and even former President Barack Obama.

Mendoza now works for the Sysco food service company.

A light bulb went off during the holiday season five years ago. He decided to collect food to prepare for those in need.

"I start with my friends around one Thanksgiving and said, ‘Is there any way you can help me and donate me a turkey?’ I ended up with 600 turkeys," Mendoza said.

Almost simultaneously, a volunteer who came to help him prep the birds led him to his next mission.

"In the same day, a lady, an old lady came over to my kitchen and helped me to prep the turkeys. And when she saw that much food, she said, 'I wish I could feed these little ones in this part of Dominican Republic.' And I said, 'Don't worry about it. God and myself will do it together,'" he recalled.

Not long after that conversation, Mendoza found himself in a small village in the Dominican Republic with toys, shoes and food in tow.

"The reaction is like happiness. They're all happy. Waiting for the toys, waiting for the food because these people only get to eat chicken like once a year," he said.

Mendoza plans to use some of his winnings to finish the cafeteria he started building on the island, so he can feed all 1,500 little mouths comfortably.

Through it all, the true gift for Mendoza is not the money the food or the accolades.

"And if you’re thinking that you're helping them, no. They’re helping you. Telling you how much you have and how much God loves you," he said.

After not taking a vacation in years, Mendoza says he will also use some of the money to treat his family to a little getaway as well.