Former White House chef Roberto Mendoza says he has never won anything before, but after his mother’s “lucky feeling” pushed him to buy a $5 lottery ticket, Mendoza won $250,000, Today reports. While most people would spend their winnings on bills or luxury purchases, Mendoza is using his prize money to feed the hungry.
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Mendoza has cooked for former President Barack Obama, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and current President Donald Trump, but he'll be using his prize money to serve the homeless in Charlotte, North Carolina. He started the Chef Heaven’s Kitchen, a foundation that raises funds and donations for a village in the Dominican Republic, and will use his winnings to further its work.
“We feed more than 300 children through my foundation,” said Mendoza.
Three years ago, Mendoza started to build a cafeteria in the village of Bayaguana for homeless people to receive meals. He plans on using his six-figure prize money to finish building the facility and to serve more meals to villagers, although he believes he will need even more funding to keep the cafeteria open permanently.
“This is a very poor village where sometimes they eat, and sometimes they don’t,” said Mendoza. “This last December, I bring toys, clothes, shoes and cook for the little ones.”
Mendoza personally experienced food insecurity growing up during the Salvadorian Civil War in the 1980’s at a time when food resources were scarce.
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"When I was 14 or 15 years old, I went to bed without eating anything all day," said Mendoza. "When I went to the faucet, just air came out. They shut the water off in my country. I went to bed crying and said when I grow up I'd do everything I can to make sure no one else has to go hungry."
Mendoza was later kidnapped for two months and was rescued by The Salvation Army, Today reports. He was then sent to live in Canada where he would be safe. There he attended culinary school and went on to become a professional chef, making it his mission to work towards eliminating hunger.
Today, more than 821 million people around the world are food insecure, including 15 million people in the US.
“I know what it’s like to be hungry,” he said. “I told myself when I was a teen that, if I’m ever in a position to give back, I’d do everything I can to make sure no one else has to go hungry.”