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‘Here comes hope’: Spokane Valley church raises $300k to pay off millions in medical debt for those in need

Shirley Carroll, left, a member of Valley Real Life, stands Tuesday with Steve Allen, outreach pastor at the church in Spokane Valley. Valley Real Life’s “Joy to the World” fundraiser has raised more than $300,000 for families struggling with medical bills. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Shirley Carroll, left, a member of Valley Real Life, stands Tuesday with Steve Allen, outreach pastor at the church in Spokane Valley. Valley Real Life’s “Joy to the World” fundraiser has raised more than $300,000 for families struggling with medical bills. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

A Spokane Valley church’s holiday fundraiser collected just over $300,000 to relieve millions of dollars of medical debt owed by families in need across the Northwest.

Valley Real Life’s efforts will result in potentially paying off $30 million of debt thanks to the church’s partnership with RIP Medical Debt, a New York-based nonprofit that will leverage the proceeds to purchase, and then forgive, qualifying debt portfolios.

RIP Medical Debt, which works in partnership with TransUnion, goes to the secondary debt market to purchase bundled portfolios of bad debt for pennies on the dollar. These portfolios have traded hands several times among different collection agencies over months or years of collection attempts, according to the nonprofit.

“To more than double what we did last year in a really difficult season, I think it’s really just reflective of what God is doing in the hearts of people,” Steve Allen, Valley Real Life’s outreach pastor, said Friday, “and I think it’s also reflective of what’s happening in the church culture and the community culture of people just wanting to care for one another.”

Qualifying debtors are those who earn less than two times the federal poverty level, those who are experiencing financial hardship (with out-of-pocket expenses that are 5% or more of their annual income) and those who have debts greater than their assets.

With the Valley Real Life proceeds, RIP Medical Debt’s relief will first focus on the Spokane area and expand from there, Allen said. An RIP Medical Debt spokesperson said the nonprofit is targeting debt relief for families in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, California, Nevada and Utah.

The funds will be used in the nonprofit’s next purchase, which will likely close in early March, the spokesperson said. Letters notifying families of relief would then be sent out around late March or early April.

Through a Dec. 1 to Jan. 15 campaign period, Valley Real Life’s sixth-annual Joy to the World holiday fundraiser had an initial goal of $200,000. Total donations reached $210,000 by late December.

“People have been so generous of their finances, but we’ve also seen they’ve been so generous with their time and their talents as well,” Allen said. “We’re excited just in the Spokane Valley community – just the ripples that are happening in the schools, the business communities and families in how they’re helping families get through this (COVID-19) season in anticipation of what the next season is going to look like.”

Inspired by Valley Real Life, another area church will likely pursue a fundraiser later this year through RIP Medical Debt.

Lakes Community Church in Newman Lake is considering medical debt relief as the mission for the church’s upcoming Easter fundraiser, said church representative Roy Abshire.

With a smaller congregation than Valley Real Life, Abshire said Lakes Community Church’s initial goal would be $10,000 for potentially $1 million in debt relief.

“I think it’s an extremely worthwhile cause. Medical debt can crush people’s lives. It’s an opportunity to reach out to the community in a very supportive way,” Abshire said. “It’s like reaching people when they’re at the no-hope stage. Well, here comes hope.”

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