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Crowdfunding helps Lumberton family ease grief

posted Dec 30, 2014, 11:58 PM by J Shaw   [ updated Dec 30, 2014, 11:58 PM ]
Hannah Richey held her 8-inch long baby in her palms.

He wasn't moving. He wasn't breathing.

The tiny details in his face reminded her of her other son, deprived of a baby brother. She grieved in her hospital bed, missing the life inside her that she had come to know in 20 short weeks.

The Lumberton family was selective about who came into the hospital room in those last days of September, but felt the support of people around the community and country who contributed to a crowdfunding account Hannah's husband, Brandon Richey, set up on Oct. 1 to pay for medical expenses and an unexpected funeral.

Crowdfunding campaigns on the Internet platform began in 2008 with the creation of Indiegogo.com, a site started to give people access to an easy means of raising funds for various projects and causes.

In 2010, the company started Indiegogo Life, a service specifically geared to funds for life events such as funerals, medical problems and educational expenses.

Since GoFundMe launched in 2010, Texans raised more than $21 million from about 300,000 donors - $3.4 million of the total was raised within the "Funerals, Memorials and Tributes" category, said Kelsea Little, a GoFundMe marketing representative.

Little declined to say how much money is raised in Southeast Texas, but said the site is "growing in popularity" in the area and throughout the state.

Brandon, 28, and Hannah, 24, decided to use GoFundMe since they had already made donations through the site when an acquaintance lost a baby in a similar situation.

At her 20-week appointment on Sept. 28, Hannah knew something was wrong when she looked at the ultrasound monitor.

The baby was hardly moving, and the heartbeat was faint. A short while later their worst fears were confirmed.

The family already faced large medical bills - Hannah's pregnancy wasn't insured.

The couple decided to get rid of their maternity insurance months before since they had no intention of getting pregnant.

http://www.crowdfundmadeeasy.com/
Now, there was the added cost of burying their tiny baby, Malachi.

Brandon quickly started a campaign, uploading a photo of Hannah with her baby bump and explaining the tragedy they faced.

"I was a little reluctant at first because I'm a proud person," Brandon said.

The average cost of a funeral, including the service, miscellaneous expenses and a burial or cremation, is about $8,000, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

That cost can be reduced to about $2,800 if a family chooses to only have a burial and no service, said Tom Broussard, funeral director at Broussard's Mortuary.

The funeral cost is only the first financial challenge a family faces in an unexpected death, Broussard said. Other expenses might include medical bills or education costs if a parent has died.

The funeral home has set up bank accounts for people when they need extra help with funeral expense, Broussard said. They post it on their website with account information so donors can write a check.

But using GoFundMe or another crowdfunding site comes with an ease that enabled the Richeys to reach their $6,000 goal within 24 hours.

It took a few clicks to set up. He entered his account information so the money could be directly transferred from the GoFundMe account to his bank account.

Sharing the page with more than 1,000 Facebook friends had a viral effect. The family raised more than $7,700, and said they will donate any leftover money to someone else.

"We're not a poor family," Hannah said. "I want to use (the money) wisely."

Little said the most successful campaigns have a colorful main photo, a Facebook-connected account, regular campaign updates and a concise campaign description.

But Broussard said he's not surprised people came together to donate to a family who lost a child and would expect similar campaigns to be successful.

The Richeys received about 100 messages offering condolences and stories from complete strangers who had experienced similar situations.

"People reached out and said, 'It's OK that you're grieving,'" Hannah said. "It wasn't just sympathy, it was empathy."

Beaumont therapist and grief counselor Chuck Olliff said it might be easier for a family or individual to set up a crowdfunding campaign immediately after a loss since they're still experiencing a numbness.

Olliff said these campaigns can "increase a sense of togetherness" within a community, especially if a donor doesn't know the individual facing the tragedy.

"I think in general people are very good-hearted," Brandon said. "They just get distracted, but when something like this happens people want to help."

Hannah said she felt comforted by the outreach from strangers and was thankful to be able to go home to her two other children Bentley, 3, and Willow, 2.

"It's hard," Hannah said. "I miss (Malachi), but every time I miss him it's selfish because I know he's in heaven."

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