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Local church festival raises money to pay off community medical debts

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Photos courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Anne-Claire Cleaver, a local singer-songwriter, was once one of more than 100 million Americans struggling with medical debt.

This Saturday, she gave back to the community through music and celebration at the RIP Medical Debt Festival, organized by Jubilee Baptist Church with the goal of raising money to relieve medical debt in Orange and Durham counties.

The church collected donations for the organization RIP Medical Debt. The concept for the nonprofit came from debt buyers, who purchase medical debt in bulk for a lower cost and are reimbursed for that debt at full price by patients.

“The founders of the organization realized in 2014 that, if instead you took a philanthropic lens, and you didn't want to make a profit, but instead used donated dollars to purchase this debt, you can in fact, sort of flip the script and purchase debts very inexpensively,” Daniel Lempert, the vice president of communications at RIP Medical Debt, said.

Each dollar donated to the organization will relieve approximately $100 of debt for someone in the medical system, according to RIP Medical Debt’s website.

The organization targets their efforts toward people who are least able to pay, Lempert said.

The donations from Saturday's festival will go to people in local hospitals. The church raised around $6,000 at the event and hopes to raise $45,000 by the end of the year through other events.

The church had provided medical debt grants in the past but never hosted an event this large, Jubilee Baptist Church Co-pastor Heather Folliard said. More than 100 people were in attendance. 

“We wanted to celebrate that we know we're going to be paying off a good chunk of debt,” Kevin Georgas, one of the co-pastors of the church, said. “That's a really joyful thing that's worth celebrating.”

Local restaurants and breweries provided catering for the festival and gave a portion of the proceeds back into the fundraiser. Food and baked goods were sold by Mr. Cheesesteak and Sugarlump’s Desserts, while Steel String Brewery and The Casual Pint provided drinks.

Folliard said there are a number of Jubilee congregation members who are struggling to pay medical bills themselves.

“This is just in line with where we want to be as far as paying off debt and also being a very warm, open, welcoming place for people to gather,” Folliard said. 

Face painting and a bouncy house were present, along with live performances of original music by Cleaver and Randy Bickford.

“Pairing my artistry with the causes that I believe in, post-COVID, has been something that I've been really passionate about,” Cleaver said.

The festival was important to Cleaver because of how she suffered from medical debt when she was younger. She said that the medical system seemed to care more about profits than her individual needs.

Cleaver said she was excited about the festival, the funds generated and her involvement as a musician. 

She said that it's important for community members to help each other if they are not helped by larger institutions.

“If we're able to do it in a way that like, I'm able to entertain people, lift their spirits or just have a community event where people are actually gathering in person and looking each other in the eye,” Cleaver said. “That's a wonderful way, I think, to create change in your own community.”

Bickford, who writes and performs under the name Scivic Rivers, is a singer-songwriter. He performed songs from his newest self-titled record, in addition to some unreleased music.

Within the music community, Bickford said that some of his friends and biggest musical influences have suffered from medical debt.

Lempert said that although RIP Debt provides immediate relief to individuals, the healthcare financing system still has systemic issues that need to be fixed.

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“I think our country is just completely anti-human and insane when it comes to health care, lack of health care,” Bickford said. “We just kind of have to help each other through mutual aid in the absence of a system that should provide that for people.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the last name of Anne-Claire Cleaver. This error has since been fixed. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com