Courtesy photo                                Brody Newcomer (left) and Matthew Duffie, two Sunday school children at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on Mercer Island, pose with a change collection bank for the church’s Lent fundraiser with RIP Medical Debt.

Courtesy photo Brody Newcomer (left) and Matthew Duffie, two Sunday school children at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on Mercer Island, pose with a change collection bank for the church’s Lent fundraiser with RIP Medical Debt.

Forgiving debt for Lent

Mercer Island church raising $20,000 to eliminate the $2 million of medical debt in King County.

One Island church’s Lent project could eliminate all current medical debt in King County.

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (HTLC) is undergoing a fundraising effort in conjunction with RIP Medical Debt, and they have identified $2 million in medical debt countywide. Their goal is to raise $20,000 by Easter, April 12, and have all $2 million forgiven.

Sunday school children have banks to collect change and various congregational efforts are taking place to gather community contributions. There is a Facebook event for the church’s effort, which began March 1. If they raise more than $20,000, they will contribute the rest of the balance toward the $8.4 million of medical debt in the state.

RIP Medical Debt, based in New York state, identifies and purchases medical debt and forgives every cent of it. Through the organization, a $100 donation would forgive someone’s $10,000 in medical debt.

Surgeries, procedures or time spent in hospital can all be very expensive and difficult, particularly for vulnerable communities and low income or under-insured families. Medical bills piling up and going to collections can hurt people’s credit, affect their housing and impact their lives in various ways.

RIP Medical Debt has selection criteria and a system used to identify recipients most in need of debt forgiveness. While some companies purchase medical debts to go after people and make a profit, RIP Medical Debt purchases debts and forgives them. Instead of receiving a bill in the mail, folks get a letter with the good news.

“It’s a relief. For some people a $3,000 bill wouldn’t be overwhelming, for other people a $3,000 bill hanging over their heads means their kids eat less. Fortunately, it’s not my reality, but it is a reality,” said Kathy Fisher, director of Intergenerational Ministry Programs at HTLC.

Fisher said she and organizers decided to make fundraising for the cause their project for Lent — a religious season when people pare down, and encourage people to donate extra change or money they would normally spend on various indulgences given up in this season.

The church has an endowment committee that was able to kickstart them with half of their target, so they started with $10,000. Several donations have come in and they are working toward collecting the additional $10,000 and beyond.

“I am hopeful that by sharing, not just within our congregation but within the larger community, we will be able to raise $10,000 by Easter, and we’re well on our way. It is amazing when you think that, as I told the kids, one penny in their bank equals $1. And $10 equals $100 paid off, $100 pays off $10,000. $20,000 in total will pay off $2 million of debt,” Fisher said. “It’ll be an amazing letter to get in the mail and a different kind of resurrection story for people in our community that can use the help.”

Fisher said that, despite the cancellation of all church services due to COVID-19 concerns and regional recommendations, she thinks they can still reach their goal.

The church has been streaming worship services online and creatively continuing some of their operations at this time. Their building is closed for the rest of the month. More information about the church and their thoughts and actions related to the virus can be found on their website at www.htlcmi.org.

More details on RIP Medical Debt can be found online at ripmedicaldebt.org.


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