Why is it, you might ask, that Neal Damato would want to be buried with his “lucky can of chicken noodle” soup?
It’s because the retired Suffolk County public safety supervisor from Medford credits that can — as well as a burger he consumed — with helping hit the top prize in the New York Lottery’s Set for Life instant game, worth at least $5 million.
The father of three and grandfather of seven was one of two Long Islanders who Wednesday received ceremonial checks from the lottery totaling $8 million.
On a day off from his part-time job as a school bus driver, Damato told his wife he had a hankering to go out for a burger for lunch, and so they did.
Then, waiting in the car as his wife did some shopping in Kohl’s, he said he was “feeling really stuffed from the burger,” so headed over to the Stop & Shop to pick up “a can of soup for dinner because that’s all I had room for.”
The next step on this life-changing path found him putting $20 into a vending machine at Stop & Shop on Montauk Highway in Shirley, and receiving two Set for Life tickets.
“I scratched the first ticket outside the store and stood there in disbelief thinking, ‘Something’s not right here,’ ” he said. “I double- and triple-checked, and then went looking for my wife.”
Damato, a former soldier and Army National Guardsman, has opted for a one-time lump-sum payment, netting him $2,624,617 after required withholdings, the lottery said.
He and his wife, Carol, 68, will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary next month, and are now planning a trip to Hawaii, with Damato lobbying for a visit to Tahiti as well.
Carol Damato said the couple wants to use the rest of the winnings to help their children with “their college bills and mortgages and pay off other bills the best we can.”
As for that can of soup, Neal Damato said no one will ever open it.
“I want them to bury me with that lucky can of chicken noodle,” he said.
Long Island’s second lottery winner, Diana Orozco of Long Beach, snared a $3 million top prize.
Orozco, who is self-employed in the clothing sales business, said that on the last day in December she asked her husband to go pick up her daily scratch-off ticket, with the $3,000,000 Frenzy game her choice on that day.
After buying the ticket at KG Cards, Gifts & Art Gallery on Park Plaza in Glen Head, he called her with the news, “Oh my God! You won!”
“I didn’t believe him,” she said. “I thought he was joking,” but later when she saw the ticket, she “knew right away that I won $3 million dollars.”
Orozco, saying she’s a bit overwhelmed by the win, opted to receive a one-time lump-sum payment of $2.41 million, netting her $1,594,938 after required withholdings, the lottery said.
Her plans for the money, she said, include buying a car and a house and putting some in savings.