FLORISSANT — Sandra Hayes was a single mother of three trying to make ends meet on a salary of less than $26,000 a year when she and 12 of her co-workers with the state of Missouri hit a $224 million Powerball jackpot six years ago.
Hayes, 51, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this week that at first she couldn't believe she had won millions of dollars. She took a lump sum payment, which she said was significantly less than the $8.5 million reported at the time, though she wouldn't say how much money she got.
She also couldn't believe the pressure she was put under by strangers and friends to share some of her winnings.
Hayes was a social worker in April 2006 when she and her colleagues hit it big. Soon after that she started getting letters from all over the country from people who said they needed money because of emergencies.
"They were desperate, but I had no idea who they were," she said.
Some sent faxes or showed up in the lobby at her office and asked to speak to her.
"After a while, I just said I'm not coming out," she said.
Others showed up at her home on weekends, pushing her to the point where she quit answering her door.
A longtime friend asked Hayes for help paying three years of back taxes, saying she could lose her house if the money wasn't paid.
Hayes offered the names of several organizations that could help, but the woman claimed none of them would help.
"You know how you can pick up a vibe off a person that something's funny?" Hayes said. "Well that's how I felt, so I told her I'd think about it."
Hayes later searched a St. Louis County government website for her friend's property tax records and discovered they had been paid in full. She printed out the page and mailed it to her friend and the two haven't spoken since.
Hayes said those experiences led her to self-publish a paperback titled "How Winning the Lottery Changed My Life."
She said she has matured a lot in the nearly six years since she hit the jackpot.
She retired and paid off her bills and her home, then bought a second home and cars for herself and her two daughters. She also paid off her son's car loan and bought him new furniture and clothes, then took her family on several vacations, which she hadn't been able to do before.
Hayes donated money to organizations that had helped her when she needed it, and gave some to people who needed assistance, including a woman whose teeth were knocked out in a domestic assault.
After her spending spree and after the publicity died down, Hayes realized she could go broke if she didn't set a budget. She still shops at discount stores and has started using coupons.
"If I don't budget right, I could spend my money by the time I'm 60," she said.
The lottery money has given her the freedom to spend her days doing things she enjoys, like gardening, cooking or fishing. She's working on an afterschool program that would teach children healthy eating habits and cooking skills.
Still, there have been some negatives, like having to find new friends.
"It feels good now to be with people who will take you out to dinner or buy you a drink, and there's no strings attached," she said. "They love me for who I am and not because of what I have."