Local woman wins $1 million in Food Lion contest

January 29, 1999

Food Lion MillionsBy BRENDAN KIRBY / Staff Writer

photo courtesy of The Charlotte Observer

Hagerstown resident Cheryl L. Smith turned the key to a Brinks armored truck Thursday in Charlotte, N.C., and found herself $1 million richer.

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Smith, who is on the housekeeping staff of the Motel 6 in Halfway, won the Food Lion MVP Million Dollar Giveaway.

When daughter Nicole hugged her, she got teary. And when she signed the oversized check, she struggled to write.

"I feel like I'm going to throw up," she said. "I've never won before."

"I imagine this will change her life," said Tawn Earnest, a spokeswoman for the Salisbury, N.C.-based supermarket chain.

Smith was one of three randomly selected contestants whose names were drawn in a nationwide sweepstakes. The other two finalists were Darlene Watson, 42, a flight attendant from New Market, Va., and Cathy Young, 38, a neighborhood association manager from Huntersville, N.C.


Earnest said Food Lion flew the other two finalists to the event. Since Smith is afraid to fly, however, Food Lion hired a company to drive her from Hagerstown.

"I've never been on an airplane and I'm scared of heights," she said Thursday evening, talking on a phone in the car on her way back home.

At the event, hosted by company CEO Tom Smith in front of a Charlotte Food Lion, each contestant received a key with which to open the armored truck.

Smith, who was the second contestant to try by virtue of alphabetical order, turned the key and the doors slid open. Balloons popped out, loud applause erupted and a high school band broke into a festive song.

"I thought I was going to pass out. I couldn't believe it," she said.

The other two contestants each received $6,000.

Smith, who walks about five blocks to work every day, said she would like to buy a van and a house.

"I'm tired of walking," she said.

As for the house, there's one on Virginia Avenue she's had her eye on, a house with plenty of room for daughters Crystal, 16, Nicole, 14, and Heather, 5.

"It's big," Smith said. "It has a large yard. My kids have always wanted a swimming pool."

Smith, 36, said she has not decided whether she will continue working at the motel. She said she has been taking classes to become a certified nurse's aide and will continue working toward that goal.

Smith won the right to try for the $1 million through a frequent-shopper program.

With an MVP frequent-shopper card, which is free at all Food Lion stores, shoppers automatically received one entry for each dollar they spent in the store from Nov. 11 to Dec. 24. For every MVP bonus purchase, shoppers got an additional 10 entries.

People also could enter by mail.

"You could really rack up your entries," Earnest said.

Smith had 264 entries out of the 2.3 billion entries Food Lion received.

"It was just a stroke of amazing luck," Earnest said.

Earnest said Smith will receive $50,000 a year for 20 years.

With 1998 sales of $10.2 billion, Food Lion is one of the nation's largest supermarket chains.

- Knight Ridder contributed to this story.

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