After 20 years living on welfare Julie Cerveras, 69, claimed her $23million prize on Friday. The ticket rested more than five months in the glove compartment of her daughter’s car with days to go before expiring. Mrs Cerveras, a widow, plans to use the money on her grandchildren, her three children and her two adopted sons, aged 5 and 9, both with developmental disabilities.

After more than five months struggling to pay a $600 electrical bill and feed her growing family, 69-year-old grandmother Julie Cervera was a millionaire without even knowing it.

Meanwhile, her $23 million winning lottery ticket languished forgotten in the glove compartment of her daughter’s car in Victorville, California.

On Thursday, someone texted her a photo of her daughter, Charliena Marquez, buying the winning ticket for her at a Palmdale Liquor store. The photo had been released by lottery officials searching for the mysterious winner of the May drawing.

‘I put my 99-cent glasses on, and I had to put two pairs on to see it,’ said Mrs Cervera. She recognized her daughter in the grainy photo, but she still couldn’t read the caption.

‘I thought she robbed a bank because I couldn’t see the words on top,’ Mrs Cervera said with a laugh. ‘So I put on a third pair (of glasses) and it said she won. I was like, “No way!”‘

Back in May, the mother and daughter were driving home together when Mrs Marquez felt queasy and asked her mother to pull over so she could buy a bottle of water.

‘She always gets carsick,’ Mrs Cervera said.

Digging into her purse to find a dollar, Mrs Cervera asked her daughter to also buy her a lottery ticket. Mrs Marquez protested but eventually used her own money to purchase a Super Lotto Plus ticket for her mom.

‘I put it in my new car. It’s an old car but it’s new to me. It’s been there for five months,’ Mrs Cervera said on Friday at a news conference with her three adult children and half a dozen grandchildren lined up behind her. ‘I’ve got like 200 tickets laying around my house. I never check my tickets.’

But when she finally looked in the glove compartment, the winning ticket was right where she left it. It was set to expire on Nov. 26, so the California Lottery went looking for the winner.

Officials found the surveillance video from Michael’s Market and Liquor and released the photo, which Mrs Cervera’s other daughter spotted in the Antelope Valley Press.

Mrs Marquez initially dismissed calls and texts from friends and family who recognized her in the photo.

‘My sister called at 11 o’clock at night and woke me up. She said, “This girl is you.” I said, “No, it’s not me,” because I hadn’t seen it yet,’ she said.

It wasn’t until the next morning that Mrs Marquez realized she had bought the winning ticket that would help her mother and her entire family for years to come.

Mrs Cervera, a widow who has lived on disability for 20 years, said her family has been through difficult times recently.

Last year her 47-year-old son Rudy was killed in a motorcycle accident, leaving four teenage children.

‘I’d give it all up to have my son here again,’ she said and began to cry. Her oldest grandson, Rudy Jr., hugged her and the whole family wiped away tears.

‘My grandkids are all going to be taken care of, and my (three) daughters,’ she said. ‘I’m just so happy. I’m going to buy me a pair of Reeboks.’

She also has two adopted sons, ages 5 and 9, who have developmental disabilities.
‘A big portion is going to them, so that when I’m gone they’ll be OK,’ she said. ‘I’m going to take them to Disneyland. I really am! And we’re going to pay for everything.’

Mrs Cervera had only 180 days to claim her prize. If she hadn’t acted, the millions would have gone to California schools. A $52 million jackpot winner in Fremont was found in August by a similar public appeal by lottery officials.

In the last fiscal year, more than $20.5 million in cash prizes went unclaimed.

Mrs Cervera said she would take a one-time cash payment of $17.8 million.

‘I’m not going to be here 30 years from now,’ she said.

Read more:
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook