ROCKFORD (WREX) — Hundreds of families in Winnebago County, and surrounding counties, just got their medical debt paid off. That's thanks to a local church that helped eliminate more than $800,000 worth of medical bills.
It started around Christmas as part of Stateline Church's season of giving.
"This year we heard about this organization that eliminated medical debt," Tyler Johnson, the associate pastor at Stateline Church, says.
Johnson and others heard that other churches locally and as far as Indiana had partnered with RIP Medical Debt, a 501(c)(3) charity that buys and forgives medical debt.
"We were thinking we'd eliminate four million dollars," Johnson says.
But through the partnership, something amazing happened.
"I got the email from the company on how much we were actually able to abolish [and] I wrote her back and said there must be a typo, right?" Johnson explains. "$16.8 million!"
Almost $17 million erased for more than nine thousand families across eight counties in Illinois, including Winnebago, Stephenson, Boone, and Ogle. All had their debts paid off.
"I think that number blew everybody away," Lead Pastor at Stateline Church Gregg Giamalva says.
Johnson remembers the moment churchgoers found out.
"There was a kind of collective gasp and then everybody just started applauding," Johnson recalls. "It was a really kind of cool moment to see everybody coming together and seeing what they could accomplish."
In just six weeks, churchgoers at Stateline Church raised around $40,000.
Here's how the process works though. Typically, for every dollar, RIP Medical Debt forgives $100 worth of debt.
"But for whatever reason, some of the debt was so old, or so bad, they were able to buy about four times what we anticipated," Johnson explains.
And Giamalva says being able to lift the burden on more people than expected is quite a blessing.
"Medical debt is debt that most people don't get because they wanted it, and most people didn't get it [through] any fault of their own," Giamalva says. "But yet, it's something like a dark cloud that just hangs over their head."
And now, it's a cloud that, thanks to Stateline Church and its members, has disappeared.
The Church says it doesn't know who exactly got their bills paid because of privacy laws.