By Sasha Smith
On a cold winter night, just days away from Christmas, Evangela Stanley (nicknamed Van), owner of People’s Choice Kitchen restaurant, experienced a circumstance that she would remember for the rest of her life.
The event happened December 23, 2019. A gunman entered the restaurant just shy of 8pm, with the intent to rob Van of the day’s revenue.
At the time of the incident, Van had started a pay-what-you-can program for the community.
“I created this program so that families didn’t have to decide between gifts for their children and a good meal,” Van said. “It’s just food, and after the pandemic, we just kept it going.”
Under this program, patrons of the restaurant can pay $2, $5 or whatever they can afford, even giving out free meals on some occasions because the person didn’t have any money.
“We also receive donations, people wanting to ‘pay it forward’,” Van also said.
Darnell Wilson, friend of Vans and neighbor of the restaurant, was there the night of the incident and sprang into action immediately, when Van cried out for help. Darnell grappled with the gunman. Multiple shots were fired, however, no one was hit. A window was shattered and both Darnell and the gunman suffered cuts and abrasions.
“Thank God he was here,” Van spoke about Darnell. “It was my son’s birthday and he had left for the evening, but if he was here, you never know, the situation could have gone another way.”
“It was pure instinct,” Darnell said, remembering the event.
Wilson received an honor from the Monroe County Legislature in January 2020.
“I was just doing what felt right,” Wilson reflected.
Van nominated Wilson for the Carnegie Hero Fund Award and their story won. Wilson is now a recipient of the award. Wilson is among North America’s highest honored civilian heroes.
Recipients of this award receive the Carnegie Medal as well as a financial grant.
The Carnegie Medal is given throughout the U.S. and Canada to those who enter extreme danger while saving or attempting to save the lives of others
For more information about Darnell Wilson and the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, go to https://www.carnegiehero.org/darnell-j-wilson/.