Local UCC churches cancel medical debt for needy families

St. Anthony Park United Church of Christ and Falcon Heights United Church of Christ are showing their small congregations can do “big-impact” service projects: They recently helped cancel long-­standing medical debt of nearly 2,200 households in Minnesota and four other states.

Together, the two UCC churches donated $28,275 that eliminated $2.8 million in old medical debt for 2,178 households in Minne­sota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Georgia.

Victoria Wilgocki, pastor at St. Anthony Park UCC, said the charitable service project was conducted through New York based, nonprofit RIP Medical Debt.

RIP Medical Debt uses dona­tions to extinguish unpayable medical debts of families in financial need. The group buys debts in large, bundled portfolios—most often on the secondary debt market—­for a fraction of their face value. As a result, a $1 donation retires, on average, $100 of medical debt.

Debt relief is random, based on qualifying debts available for purchase. Recipients are alerted by receiving an RIP Medical Debt envelope in the mail. Letters were slated to arrive in mid-May this year. Fifty-two Minnesota counties received debt elimination, including Ramsey, Hennepin, Dakota, Scott, Cass and Anoka counties.

Wilgocki learned about RIP Medical Debt from a UCC church in Winona.

“Given all of the restrictions with COVID this past year, my church was not able to do the kind of service projects we normally would, such as cooking and serving a meal at the Dorothy Day Center,” Wilgocki said. “However, we could raise money and give it away.

“And we could give even more money away if we partnered with another church,” she continued. “I invited our friends at Falcon Heights UCC to participate, and they enthusiastically agreed to join in.

“After doing the initial legwork last fall, the two churches launched the campaign at the start of the new year, receiving donations from Jan.1 thru Feb. 14, 2021,” Wil­gocki noted. “It was the season of Epiphany in the Christian church year—a time when we remember the Magi who followed the starlight to where Jesus was born and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. We decided to be adventurous, reverent, courageous and generous, like the Magi.”

She concluded, “Two small-in-number but mighty-in-spirit churches made a profound difference” in the lives of thousands of households.” 

Scott Carlson, Bugle managing editor

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