It’s not unusual for a church congregation to raise $21,000 for a good cause. It happens on a regular basis across this Valley — and this nation.
Still, the twist on Walla Walla’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s $21,000 fundraising effort is unusual enough that news of it was published under a banner headline on the front page of the U-B on Thursday.
It was not only good news, it was interesting news. The congregation at St. Paul’s came up with an innovative way to help not just their parishioners, but folks throughout Walla Walla and Umatilla counties as well as Eastern Washington.
The $21,000 raised was used to buy — and then forgive — $2.125 million in outstanding medical debt.
That’s a gift that will bring much joy and relief to many.
The Rev. David Sibley of St. Paul’s told U-B reporter Sheila Hagar that the St. Paul’s congregation decided local medical debt is an area where a difference could be made. This was seen as especially important because the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting some people hard both medically and through loss of income.
The church launched “The Jubilee Campaign,” in early June to fund the effort.
“In the Bible, the law of Moses made every seventh year a jubilee, in which prisoners were freed, debts were forgiven and people would see a visible manifestation of the mercy and grace of God,” Sibley said in a news release.
Sibley said the original goal was to raise $15,000, with every dollar able to wipe out $100 of debt.
People here and around the country contributed, in donations from $10 to $5,000, surpassing the goal by $6,000.
The debt was erased through a nonprofit organization called “RIP Medical Debt,” an agency founded in 2014 by two former debt collectors.
The men use donations to buy large bundles of medical debt, then forgive that debt with no tax consequences to donors or recipients, according to RIP’s website.
So far, Hagar wrote, that model has wiped out $1.4 billion in medical debts for more than 650,000 people. It’s a sad commentary on our society that debt that can destroy lives is sold so easily and cheaply to others. Nevertheless, it’s the reality. In the case, this situation is used to help others.
“The burden of medical care is a growing crisis in this country,” Sibley said. “A person’s life can be turned upside down by something out of their control.”
The action taken by St. Paul’s congregation has eased the burden for some in this region even though they didn’t ask for help. That’s what helping others is about — random acts of kindness.