(CNN) — In a Christmas gift to its community, a Los Angeles church is paying off $5.3 million in medical bills for more than 5,000 households.
Christian Assembly Church worked with RIP Medical Debt to map out the active households that call the church home. In those 28 neighborhoods, there was $5.3 million worth of outstanding medical debt.
RIP Medical Debt is a non-profit organization that buys medical debt at a steep discount and then sells it to entities like the church. So, the church decided to purchase the $5.3 million debt as a Christmas gift.
Pastor Tom Hughes announced the “Christmas surprise” on Sunday in a video posted on Facebook. The church will be able to pay off each dollar of debt for one cent, so the church’s total cost will be $53,000, he said.
“Once we do this, it will end all the harassing phone calls from the debt collectors,” Hughes said. “But not only that, we will work with the credit agencies to repair their credit score for the impact of these unpaid medical bills,” he said.
Hughes said that this “crushing” debt was a burden to families that earn less than twice the federal poverty line in the 28 neighborhoods. The debt affects 5,555 households in the Los Angeles area. The church is in Eagle Rock, a neighborhood northeast of downtown Los Angeles.
“This week all 5,555 households will be getting a letter letting them know that their medical debt has been canceled, no strings attached, because of the generosity of the people Christian Assembly Church,” Hughes said. “As they recover from their illness, it will help them get back on their feet and avoid homelessness.”
Hughes said that the church just wants the recipients to know the love and mercy of God.