The Cerezo family hasn’t been facing the best of times.
Their house has been in foreclosure since February and they were months away from eviction.
Their cars were repossessed.
Their jewelry gone, sold to the highest bidder.
Ricardo Cerezo, the 44-year-old head of household, quit his job in management consulting in 2010 to take care of his daughter, Savannah, who had to stay home with severe bipolar disorder. A professional in helping companies in distress, he painstakingly took her to and from medical appointments and trips to the hospital.
But 14-year-old Savannah died last August. Brain-dead, her parents pulled her off life support after suffering four-and-a-half hours of seizures.
One of Savannah’s last gifts to her parents was a glass cookie jar. And one of her last requests, seeing their financial struggles, was urging them to never stop playing the lottery.
“Savannah was the only one that encouraged us to play,” he told Fox News Latino. “Everyone at home thought it was a waste of time given that we needed every penny.”
The father played when he could and saved old lottery tickets — they never won anything — in that glass cookie jar. This week, nine months after Savannah’s death, Ricardo and his wife, Bonnie, were doing some kitchen cleaning and she asked him to finally do something about three months’ worth of old tickets filling up the jar.
Do something with them, she asked him. So instead of throwing them out, he decided to actually check if one of the tickets had winning numbers.
Did it ever.
Ricardo took the 11 tickets stashed in the cookie jar to the 7-Eleven where he had bought them. The first eight out of the nine tickets came up empty. The next ticket was a winner — $3. But the last ticket, a Quick Pix, alerted Cerezo that he needed to file a claim, which means the ticket was worth $600 or more.
As it turns out, it was worth nearly $5 million. It’ll be spread out in annual payments of $100,000 for 26 years and paid on each February, coincidentally Savannah's birthday month.
Ricardo Cerezo had no doubt — it was all Savannah’s divine doing.
“She kept insisting that somehow she was going to pay us back,” he said. “She kept her promise.”
The turn of events has dramatically impacted the Cerezos.
Now they’ll be able to keep their home — they hadn’t touched Savannah’s room, except for adding an urn with her ashes.
It was in that very room where Ricardo cried for losing his daughter and where he prayed that life would get better for his family.
“Dear lord, please just don’t take away this room,” he said he prayed. “We had lost everything we had. The room was the last thing we had of her existence.
“Little did we know the answer was downstairs the whole time,” Ricardo said, in a nondescript glass cookie jar filled with old papers.
Beyond being able to pay the house off and return to a normal life at home, now the Cerezos won’t have to worry about how to afford to pay for college for their two other children.
They also pledged to contribute to their church — where they sought consolation while grieving Savannah’s death —and other charities. They will also look to fund organizations, or start an organization of their own, that will conduct research into mental health, given their daughter’s deadly bout with bipolar disorder.
“Every now, and then we can find the joy in the win itself,” Ricardo said. “We are very happy that we have some financial peace. But there is no real jumping for joy.”
But even with the unexpected economic turnaround at home, Ricardo Cerezo noted he’s not about to forget what making it through hard work is all about.
Come Monday, he’ll report to work just like any other day.
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Bryan Llenas currently serves as a New York-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC) and a reporter for Fox News Latino (FNL). Click here for more information on Bryan Llenas. Follow him on Twitter @BryanLlenas.