The California resident decided to split the money between two charities: Uplift Family Services and Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.
A Wheel of Fortune contestant is giving back to society after winning big bucks on the classic game show. Scott Kolbrenner, a top executive at a Los Angeles investment firm, announced on Friday that he plans to donate the $145,000 he won during last week's airing of the long-running program. Making the revelation during an appearance on ABC's Good Morning America, the California resident explained that he will split the money — which includes the $100,000 grand prize — between two California charities: Uplift Family Services and Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.
"It's been a dark time," Kolbrenner explained. "When I went on the show, I was doing it for the fun of it, and I said to my wife... 'If I do OK here, anything that I get, let's give it to charity. We're very fortunate. Let's see if we can support some others who aren't as fortunate as we are." Kolbrenner revealed that, save for his wife, none of his friends or family — including his two children — knew about him winning on the show prior to the episode's airing on Thursday. "My kids didn’t know, my parents, friends, family didn't know so it was a complete and utter shock for everyone in our lives and they were elated about it," he said.
According to Daily Mail, Kolbrenner — a managing director at the investment firm Houlihan Lokey — has long sat on the board of Uplift Family Services, which helps children and their families manage and recover from trauma and related challenges. "I've been involved with them for 20 years and they do such great work," he said. "People think of Hollywood as glitz and glamour, but there's plenty of people you don't see in the bright lights every day. What I was hoping to do is shine a light on them." The organization expressed gratitude for his donation on its Facebook page, writing: "We are so honored and grateful that Scott chose to play for us while advocating for our agency's Los Angeles-based Hollygrove programs."
Speaking of Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, the other organization he has chosen to help, Kolbrenner said: "Obviously, their needs have expanded greatly during this time. We've just been thrilled to be able to help these two organizations." The food bank also thanked him for his generosity, writing: "It takes the whole community to fight food insecurity and the critical work that we do is possible with the help of people like Scott Kolbrenner. We are so grateful to be part of such a supportive community."
Kolbrenner — a native of Hewlett, a small hamlet on the south shore of Long Island — revealed that he turned to the show regularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. "What's more comfort-food than turning on 'Wheel of Fortune' and seeing Pat [Sajak] and Vanna [White], whom I'd grown up watching," he said. "As we got into the summer, I was watching it every night and I would yell out the answers like everybody does when they watch." His wife Caryn, an elementary-school nurse, eventually encouraged him to audition. "I sent in a quick video and a one-page application. I got a call back right away for a Zoom interview (which included a mock show with other potential contestants) which was really fun to do," he said.
"I thought I had blown it because I didn't win a lot of the puzzles, but then a couple of days later I got an email that said, 'Your taping day is November 5th. We look forward to seeing you,'" Kolbrenner added. "I couldn't believe it!" The 50-year-old told Newsday that his family and especially his late maternal grandfather, Paul Safro, always taught him to help others. "He was very civic-minded, and said to me from an early age, 'You know, I'd love for you to be a success in business and with your family, but you're really incomplete if you're not also contributing to your community.' And it stuck with me," he said.