CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The food services team at Ardrey Kell High School traded messages of celebration on March 24, after learning they had a $10,000 winning ticket in the previous night's Powerball drawing.
And they quickly thought of Sophia — and of the medical treatment she needed but couldn't afford.
"There was no way she wouldn't be a part of it," said Marilyn Johnson, manager of the food services staff at Ardrey Kell. "It was never a question."
Sophia Tatsis, a member of the staff, hadn't been at work when her co-workers, along with Ardrey Kell Principal David Switzer, pooled their money for Powerball tickets. Tatsis, 67, had been out of work since December, when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
She hadn't chipped in with a few dollars when the staff bought Powerball tickets. She was more concerned about getting better — and finding a way to pay for a chemotherapy treatment she needed in March.
As a part-time employee, Tatsis doesn't have health insurance other than Medicare. She and her husband, a retired restaurant owner, live on pensions, Social Security and what Tatsis makes in her 25-hour-a-week cafeteria job.
"The treatments are very expensive," Tatsis said Wednesday, near the end of her shift at Ardrey Kell, where she returned to work this week. "Thanks to my friends, I could pay for it."
Johnson said there was never any question among the staff that they would include Tatsis with a winning share — which, after taxes, amounts to about $450, just enough to pay what she owed for chemotherapy.
But Johnson was surprised by what else happened.
"After it became known what we were doing, and word got around the school, other people came forward with envelopes containing money," Johnson said. "What our staff started has continued. It's like what they say about doing a good deed. It just keeps paying forward."
Like most of the others on the 15-member cafeteria staff, Sophia Tatsis has worked at Ardrey Kell for several years. She and her co-workers say the group is tight.
"It's like a family," said staff member Paul Shaw. "When we win, we all win."
"When they called and told me about the ticket and what they were doing, I was shocked," Tatsis said. "I am so grateful for what they have done."
School principal Switzer said the food services staff is "a group of very good people. This has really excited them. It was so nice to see the positive energy — all the smiles on their faces."
The winning ticket was good news in another way. Several other part-time staff members were short on cash, because there was no school on the week after Easter — and, hence, no paycheck.'
"This helped them put food on the table that week," Johnson said.
Johnson and staff member Krystine Palmer, who buys the tickets for the group and was the first to discover they had a winning number, said Wednesday they came within an eyelash of much more.
"We had the first four numbers and the Powerball number," Palmer said. But they missed having the correct number of the fifth ball by a single digit. That would have made the ticket worth $1 million.
"But that's OK," Johnson said. "What's happened is wonderful. The Lord blessed us in this way. It's amazing, how much good came from a single winning ticket."
Thanks to Original Bey for the tip.