TODAY   |  May 17, 2013

Family finds winning lotto ticket in cookie jar

When the Cerezo family cleaned the kitchen earlier this month, they never imagined that one of the lottery tickets they had tossed into the cookie jar bought by their daughter, who recently passed away at 14, would make them several million dollars richer. NBC’s John Yang reports.

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>>> tomorrow's powerball jackpot $550 million a staggering total of $740 million and this morning we have some inspiration if you hope to win, a family going through some hard times who hit it big thanks to an almost forgotten lottery ticket . nbc's john yang is in chicago with the story.

>> reporter: good morning, savannah. this is an object lesson for all of us who buy lottery tickets and throw them in a drawer or cookie jar . it really does pay to check your numbers. the cookie jar sat in the seraiso family's kitchen bought by 14-year-old savannah just months before she died last year after suffering seizures.

>> sort of where we keep our keepsakes of her and still piling up lotto tickets.

>> reporter: when they cleaned the kitchen, his wife told him if he didn't check the tickets she was throwing them out, so he took them to the nearest gas station to be scanned.

>> as he went through about the first 15 of them it was all, you know, sorry, not a winner, which is okay. because i always hang on to the hope and the last ticket said file a claim, not a congrat congratulatio congratulations, not an amount, just said file a claim.

>> reporter: he figured he'd won maybe $700. his jackpot was a little more, $4.8 million. after taxes he's taking home $3.4 million. it's a bittersweet windfall.

>> the money is fantastic. we can't really find joy in it because the one person we would really want to enjoy it with is not with us.

>> reporter: but a welcome windfall nonetheless because their house was in foreclosure, a house filled with so many memories of their daughter.

>> i was in my daughter's room on my knees crying, just asking the lord, you know, i'm okay with losing everything else. i just can't lose this room.

>> reporter: now they can pay off their mortgage, add to their other children's college funds and give to their church.

>> we decided to hang on to faith, we clung together and what an amazing payoff.

>> reporter: he says he always believes there are better days ahead and if that's true, he says, something even more spectacular is awaiting him. savannah?

>> john yang in chicago, thank you so much. everybody dreams of winning the lottery, buying a big car but to get to hold on to the memories and being in the home that meant so much to their little girl is great.

>> is there anything better than when someone who should win the lottery really wins the lottery.

>> they're already rich in faith,