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Woman who won $146K in lottery pays it forward by handing out gift cards to strangers

The single mother of three sons explained that she was motivated to pay it forward 'because I know what it’s like to struggle.'

Woman who won $146K in lottery pays it forward by handing out gift cards to strangers
Cover Image Source: Kentucky Lottery

Editor's note: This article was originally published on July 25, 2022. It has since been updated.

A Kentucky woman shared her unexpected windfall with her community after winning $146,351.74 in a Kentucky Lottery online game. Crystal Dunn from Louisville, Kentucky, had little hope of actually winning the lottery jackpot when she half-heartedly made a $20 wager in the Bank Buster Jackpot Instant Play—something she does for fun from time to time. Yet, on the evening of July 7, 2022, Dunn kept one eye on the television show she was watching and the other on the computer on which she'd just placed her bet.

Moments after she made the wager, an unexpected message flashed on Dunn's computer screen: "JACKPOT WINNER! $146,351.74." The single mother of three was stunned. Speaking to The Washington Post, Dunn recalled exclaiming, "No way, no way! That's not possible" to her kids. She didn't believe it until she received a confirmation email from lottery officials, revealing a news release from the Kentucky Lottery. The next morning, Dunn drove to the Kentucky Lottery office to collect her winnings. After depositing her check—$103,909.73 after taxes—she thought about how she would spend the windfall on herself or her family.



"I was thinking about the first thing I want to do with it," Dunn recalled. "I thought, I want to share this with others in some way. I just received this amazing gift, and I wanted to share that." Determined to pay forward her stroke of good luck, she stopped at her local Meijer grocery store on the way back home and purchased $2,000 in gift cards. Next, Dunn walked around the store handing them out to random shoppers in the store, who were all strangers to her. "A lot of people were in disbelief," she said of the 20 lucky recipients who were stunned by her surprising gesture and some of whom asked to give her a hug in return.



The 42-year-old explained that she was motivated to pay it forward "because I know what it’s like to struggle." She moved from one foster home to the next from the age of 9 until 16, when she ran away and started taking care of herself. "I had a very hard childhood," Dunn said. "I went through a lot of things that kids should never go through. I have gone without many things." Despite her rough upbringing, Dunn was determined to forge a better future for herself. She put herself through college and landed a stable job at a health insurance business, where she still works.

"No matter what life you have, you do have a choice, and you can make decisions to make it better and to make a positive impact on others' lives," she said. "You just have to push forward." Dunn is proud of the life she has created for herself and hopes her story will inspire others—particularly children—who are facing similar challenges. "When I won the money, in a way I wished it was someone else because I do okay. I can take care of myself," Dunn said. "I never expected this in my wildest dreams to happen, nor did I expect to be all over the news."



Although Dunn initially declined interview requests, she realized that she was presented with a rare opportunity to spread some positivity. "My first thought was to turn them down," she said of the interview requests. "Then, I got to thinking about why this news spread. The news is filled with stories of people doing horrible things to one another, and this causes us all to lose hope." Chip Polston, the senior vice president of communications for Kentucky Lottery, revealed that his staff was touched by Dunn's decision to share her winnings.



"It wasn't like she won millions of dollars," said Polston. "She had the foresight to take $2,000 and just go make the day of 20 random people in this grocery store." For most winners, he added, "It's really not the material things that have brought them the most joy, it's what they were able to do for other people." This certainly is the case for Dunn, who said she will use the remaining funds—which she estimates will be about $75,000 once further taxes are taken out—for things she was already saving up for, such as a new car and perhaps some home improvements. The most special aspect of her win, she said, is that she shared her luck with her community. "I believe in trying to help others," she said.

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