A lottery-playing tradition started by the matriarch of a large New Jersey shore family paid off for her 17 children this week when they won a $20 million jackpot that will partly be used to help family members recover from Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
"I said to myself, 'This couldn't have come at a more perfect time,' " Faith Schiabor said, describing a call she received from her sister Sigrid Endreson, who held the winning ticket for the Pick 6 prize. "With Sandy, with the economy today, everybody's really hurting.
"This is definitely going to help everyone; it's going to help Ocean County because most of us live here," she said.
At a news conference at a community center Thursday, jokes and jocularity mixed with some tears as the siblings described their struggle to recover from the widespread damage brought by Sandy to the Toms River area.
John Endreson, 69, became emotional when he described rebuilding his home after Sandy ripped through.
"The hardest part was seeing other people that were devastated," he said. "I was able to redo my house and help my family and my brothers. I was quite fortunate. I just feel so lucky. And this is just the icing on the cake."
Endreson added some levity when he poked fun at one of his brothers who had just given reporters a lesson in pronouncing his last name.
"I don't care how you pronounce it, how you spell it, as long as I can cash the check," Endreson said. (The name is pronounced EHN'-dress-uhn.)
Sigrid Endreson said she bought the tickets and forgot about them for about two weeks before going down to a supermarket to check the numbers. When one came back with the message "See cashier," she ran it through again before taking it up to the window and getting the good news.
"I started to cry," she said. "I called my sister to come get me. I didn't think I was going to make it."
The siblings' father emigrated from Norway to New Jersey, where he met their mother, whose family owned a farm in East Brunswick. It was their mother, Flossie, who had played the lottery for years, a tradition continued by her children, who began pooling their money after her death about 10 years ago.
The family has decided to take a lump sum payment of $14 million, which is worth about $10 million after taxes. In addition to the 17 siblings, who range in age from 53 to 76, three children of one of the siblings whose father died recently will share in the winnings, family members said. They declined to specify how the money would be divided.