Richard Wahl had $22 in his pocket to buy gas, a Diet Coke and a few Mega Millions lottery tickets. Days later, he won one of the largest lottery jackpots in history.
Wahl won the $533 million Mega Millions jackpot on March 30 after playing the lottery two times. He has decided to take the cash option of $324.6 million over the annuity.
“I drive past that (Mega Millions) sign every day and don’t buy,” he told reporters at a press conference at the New Jersey Lottery headquarters in Trenton where he was announced as the winner.
Wahl, 47, purchased his first ticket last month just after chatting with a co-worker about retirement. He didn’t win.
A week later, he stopped at a Lukoil gas station in Riverdale, New Jersey, went inside the store and bought more tickets.
When the winning numbers were announced on Good Friday, he initially thought he had won $1 million.
“I can tell you, it didn’t sink in. It was truly amazing,” he said.
Still in shock, Wahl and his family canceled their Easter weekend plans.
“I didn’t feel comfortable taking the ticket out of the house; I didn’t feel comfortable leaving it in the house,” he said.
How He’ll Spend His Winnings
Wahl is a production manager at a food services company. He moved to New Jersey last year with his family from Michigan. He said he plans to help relatives, some friends and others in need with his lottery winnings.
“It’s not only life-changing money for me, but I want it to be life-changing money for others,” he said.
But he also wants to make his dream of restoring a 1963 Corvette a reality.
The prize is the fourth largest Mega Millions jackpot and the 10th largest lottery jackpot ever, according to the New Jersey Lottery.
The winning numbers were 11, 28, 31, 46 and 59 and the Mega Ball was 1.
Lottery-Winning New Jersey Family Sets Up Foundation To Give Back
The Smith family—coincidentally also from New Jersey where Wahl lives—won a $429 million Powerball prize in 2016, and they’re working to put their winnings to use in the most charitable ways possible.
No fancy cars or extravagance for this family. Instead, the mother, Pearlie Mae Smith, and her seven adult children split the $284 million received (they, like Wahl, took the cash option). The Smiths worked to pay off student loans and see to other financial obligations. Then, they pooled together what was left to do something great.
They’ve started the Smith Family Foundation, a grant-giving organization that’s working to make Trenton, New Jersey, stronger.
According to the Huffington Post, after winning the lottery last year, the family promised to give back to their community.
“It was like affirmation from God because we each have dreams that we want to fulfill in this life, and do for our community and do for each other and for our families and we have been funded to do that,” one of the children, Valerie Arthur, said during last year’s press conference.
She also, humorously, mentioned that when she got the call from her mother that they’d won the jackpot, she thought it was an April Fool’s prank.
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The Smiths chose to make Trenton a better place, mainly because they want to give back to the city they were raised in.
“The seeds for the foundation were planted decades ago in the South Side of Trenton, where Seamon and Pearlie Smith raised their children on values of hard work, love of God, and giving back,” the Smith Foundation’s website states. The Foundation had its grand opening on June 10, the highlights of which were captured in a Facebook video:
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Now that the family foundation is fully underway, they’ll be giving money to organizations that can make a difference in Trenton, and that can help create a better future for the city. The organization’s core values are education, cultivation, transformation and urban ministry.
“We want to fund programs that directly affect systems of poverty so we can help change the systems or change the dynamics that are causing people to be in poverty,” Harold Smith, the foundation’s program manager, told NJ.com. “Rather than just helping them find food or give away food, we can make it so they now have the ability to obtain employment, get their proper education in order to be able to go out and get their own food.”
But this isn’t just for Trenton. It’s for everyone who lives there.
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“We’re making an investment in our community and when you make an investment, you expect a return,” Arthur told NJ.com. “So we want to see what the social return is going to be, what the educational return is going to be, what the transformations in people’s lives is going to be.”
Written by Nicole Chavez for CNN with reporting on the Smith family by Augusta Statz for Simplemost.
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