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Family honors late grandmother by hiding notes and money in books

'Oma was so kind and generous with us that we're paying it forward to others.'
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

Andrew Crochunis was shopping at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware when he found a five-dollar bill and a note in a book.

"Please accept this gift in loving memory of our grandmother who would take us to buy a book of our choosing every Christmas," the note read. "She instilled in us a love of reading. Use this money towards a new book purchase. #omaluv."

Crochunis, who was on vacation in the beach town, was in need of a positive message; it was the day after the Parkland shooting in Florida.

Nicole White and her family have been hiding notes like this one, in memory of her mother, Barbara Longova, in books.Andrew Crochunis

"My faith in the goodness of the world was low," recalled Crochunis. "And then that note fell into my hand and I saw a glimmer of light. Someone's grandmother understood the importance not only of learning and reading, but of giving that gift to others."

"Oma," as Barbara Longova's three grandchildren called her, was a longtime resident of Baltimore, Maryland who moved to the beach once her two children became adults.

Barbara Longova with her grandson, Gavin.Nicole White

"She loved everything about living at the beach," Longova's daughter, Nicole White, told TODAY Parents. "Browseabout Books was her favorite store and reading was her favorite activity...she loved to sit on her porch, drinking a glass of wine and reading a good book."

Longova would take her grandkids shopping at Browseabout Books before Christmas, allowing them to pick gifts ahead of time.

An avid reader, Longova would gift her grandchildren with books each Christmas.Nicole White

"The kids could buy the books they wanted and then they would be wrapped and under the tree on Christmas morning," said White. "It was a tradition that her mom started with my brother and I when we were kids, and my kids just loved doing it with their Oma."

After Longova died unexpectedly in November 2015, White and her brother knew there would be a hole in their family's holiday traditions without a visit to the bookstore.

"It wasn't about the gift because my kids get things all the time," explained White. "It was about finding a way to honor and remember her. We decided Oma would buy books for anyone that needed a little bit of money off the book they were choosing."

Barbara Longova with her grandchildren, Lucy and Gavin.Nicole White

Since 2015, White, her husband and her children, Gavin, 17, and Lucy, 14, have hidden the cash and notes in books at both Browseabout Books and their local Barnes and Noble in Annapolis.

"When I go to the bookstore I first look at the Stephen King books because those were her favorite," said Lucy. "After Stephen King books, I look for books I think she might have enjoyed or books about things that I knew interested her."

As a show of support, several of Lucy White's friends joined her on her first year passing out the notes.Nicole White

"Oma had a serious love of reading and wanted us to share that love with her," said Gavin. "Her determination and enthusiasm really worked and to this day, I still love reading and doubt that will ever go away...Oma was so kind and generous with us that we're paying it forward to others."

Several readers who have found #omaluv notes in their books have shared photos on social media, many of whom also share how touched they were.

They're paying it forward, too.

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"Almost every time one comes through, the customer chooses to put it in another random book in the store," said Susan Kehoe, a managing partner of Browseabout. "I did not know Barbara personally, but she must have been the best grandmother ever."

Terri Peters contributed.