CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WAND) - Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church in Champaign has purchased $4 million in local families' past due local medical debt.

This week, 3,617 financially strapped households in counties throughout Central and Southern Illinois got letters telling them their medical debts have been paid off by the church.

The Rev. Beth Maynard, Emmanuel's Rector, announced the debt forgiveness initiative at Sunday services on March 31.

The church raised money for property repairs during the 2017-2018 year. They pledged to use additional money to help those outside the church.

To find local households who were struggling with un-payable bills, Emmanuel worked with RIP Medical Debt, a New York-based charity founded by two former collection agency executives.

Using a list of Episcopal Diocese of Springfield counties provided by the church, the charity searched bundled debt portfolios to locate Central and Southern Illinois accounts held by households in financial difficulty, and then negotiated bulk purchases at pennies on the dollar.

Emmanuel's donation of $15,000 offset debt of $4 million.

"I applaud Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church for their dedication in realizing this important campaign," said RIP co-founder, Jerry Ashton. "We feel incredibly privileged to work with any faith-based organization committed to relieving the burden of un-payable medical debt in its community."

Emmanuel also made donations benefiting two Champaign-Urbana nonprofits, Empty Tomb, which deploys church volunteers to assist local families with a diverse range of needs, and the grassroots homelessness ministry C-U at Home.