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A Nebraska Church Raised Over Half a Million Dollars to Pay Off Medical Debt of 500 Households

A Nebraska Church Raised Over Half a Million Dollars to Pay Off Medical Debt of 500 Households

A Nebraska church has raised $550,000 to pay off the medical bills of local residents.

First-Plymouth Congregational Church of Lincoln received donations from around 10,000 people over the last year, many of whom were not church members. The proceeds went to help around 500 households in the surrounding community, far exceeding the church leadership’s initial expectations of bringing in around $8,000.

“Sometimes love has to be expressed in actions. We have had an initiative all year that is just love on the move,” said Jim Keck, senior pastor of First-Plymouth Congregational Church, in his Easter sermon. “The church decided that there were too many homes right in our neighborhood that were saddled with medical debt. … The church decided that every dime that went into the collection plate … would go to forgive the medical debt of homes right here in central Lincoln.”

The campaign, which began in March 2022, aimed to erase medical debt in the Near South Neighborhood and surrounding communities by committing all of the church’s loose offerings (not pledges) to this effort until Easter 2023. The initiative was done in conjunction with the Debtor’s Defense Project, which works to provide “more transparency and protection for those going through the legal process of debt collection in Nebraska.”

“Each month, you put money in the plate, and we bought as many of those as possible,” Keck said on Sunday morning. “It now culminates this year. We have retired the debts of over 500 homes right here in the neighborhood. … As of this morning, we will hit somewhere around $550,000.”

The church leadership received anonymized profiles from the debt collector to keep people’s privacy. This helped them understand the extent of the problem and how best to direct their resources.

The church’s generosity has helped many people, including a single person living in a rental unit who owed $1,000, a single parent receiving little child support who owed $600, and a food service worker who owed $1,300. Most of the donations to the campaign have been between $25 and $50, with the donated money being tax-exempt.

Keck explained that the campaign is following the words of Jesus, who called his followers to “love their neighbor.”

“There was no screening of people, whether gay, straight, transgender, what race, what religion. It was an act of pure inclusion, which is such a central ethic here,” Keck said. “This is like the Lord’s Prayer in action to forgive us our debts.”

In recent years, many churches have worked to raise funds to help their neighbors eliminate extensive medical debts, often raising large sums of money. For example, in 2021, a New Mexico Episcopal church said it paid off all available medical debt for the entire state of New Mexico and several Arizona counties, working with nonprofit organization RIP Medical to pay off $1,380,119.87 in medical debt for 782 households.

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