In Times Of Crisis, You Need A Spare Key

With the support of Spare Key, families can avoid financial crises to their medical crises.

Spare Key, Rebecca Yonaka, St. Louis

From then on, the Keechs’ vowed to help other families facing similar situations, which led the couple to found Spare Key in 1997 in Derian’s memory. Volunteers, donors, and staff members of this Minnesota-based nonprofit are all dedicated to providing support, however the families decide to accept it. Donations can go toward any debt or expense the family chooses, whether to pay a mortgage, medical bills, or even car payments.

Donations can go toward any debt or expense the family chooses, whether to pay a mortgage, medical bills, or even car payments. The family chooses which bills they need help with on and donors contribute directly to that bill.  Spare Key then uses 100% of those funds to pay the bill directly to the servicer, ensuring 100% accountability to the donor.

Spare Key, Rebecca Yonaka

“Spare Key is an inclusive organization,” said Rebecca Yonaka, correspondent sales director for Caliber Home Loans and board member for Spare Key. “We don’t discriminate on the basis of injury or illness or even their income. If they have a proven medical illness in the family and medical debt, they are entitled to our help.”

The application and eligibility requirements for families seeking help are remarkably brief and simple. The applicant must prove they have an ill family member, medical debt, a significant reduction of income, and high medical expenses. Above all, the family needs a social worker or doctor to confirm they are enduring financial hardship. Sometimes a letter from a social worker is all that’s needed to be eligible for assistance.

Spare Key

Many families come to Spare Key after being turned down by other organizations that have income requirements. Spare Key realizes that income is an ineffective measure for how much assistance a family needs. Although a married couple might have a six-figure household income, they can quickly fall to financial ruin after a few surgeries. “But it’s not always the medical bills themselves that rack up the debt,” said Sarah Putnam, Spare Key’s marketing director. “Most of the time it’s the reduced income from missing work, because you were at those surgeries or taking care of your sick child.”

“Over the years, we’ve seen a lot more variety in general,” Putnam continued. “As Spare Key expanded out of the Midwest into more parts of the country, the organization began to see more variety amongst the families. As you know, the demographic in the Midwest is quite white, so we were really excited to expand our assistance to a wider range of people. Over time, we saw more minority families come in, and more kids of all ages come in with various illnesses or injuries.”

Two thirds of people who file for bankruptcy in America cite medical issues as a key contributor to their financial downfall, according to a study by the American Journal of Public Health. Most people do not realize their health insurance might not be enough to protect them, one researcher stated. By the time families realize this, they might also come to learn that most people are bankrupted, either by the high cost of medical care or time spent out of work. This puts even more pressure on parents who are forced to choose between their sick child and work. With the support of Spare Key, families don’t have to decide.

The Evans family is quoted on their website saying, “You don’t think that this could happen to you, but it does, and there are people there with you the whole entire way and Spare Key makes it possible for you to live your normal life.”

‘Bounce Not Break’

This past year has not been easy for Spare Key, though, with COVID restrictions making it harder to host charity and crowdfunding events. As a result, the organization lost half a million dollars and two thirds of its budget. Still, they refused to cut families off from support, following the mantra of “bounce not break” when times are challenging. Instead, the group decided to get more creative with its marketing campaigns.

Erich Mische, executive director of Spare Key

This is what prompted executive director, Erich Mische, to start his 1,700-mile journey down the Mississippi River in an attempt to spread awareness about Spare Key. “If we couldn’t bring people to an event, I would bring Spare Key and an event to people,” Mische said.

Sailors, boatsmen, and onlookers at the bank of the Mississippi river would have seen a man captaining a makeshift HomeDepot shed sitting on top of a 50-year-old, rotting pontoon. If the sight of it didn’t scare people away, the captain was happy to welcome them on board. “People can spend a night on here with me, or a weekend,” Mische said. “I will tell you, it’s close quarters, so you’ve got to be comfortable with that. You also have to be comfortable with me being the captain of a raft that has a leaky tube.”

Full of vigor and excitement, Mische began his harrowing journey in St. Paul, Minn., and ended in Baton Rouge, La., passing through 10 states over the course of two months to finally become licensed in all 50 states.

Despite a leaky tube, nearly capsizing three times, and almost sinking in Lake Pepin, Mische was able to complete his journey.

“The challenge for me is that I’m afraid of the dark, I’m scared of animals, and I don’t know the first thing about the Mississippi River,” Mische said.“Every single mile down the river is a learning experience for me. Along the way, I’m meeting a lot of people who are very generous, very supportive, and also very helpful.”

The Spare Key team might be willing to bend over backwards to advocate for these families, but the only thing donors have to do is pick a family on and they can donate directly via credit card online.

“Donors can choose to provide their donations through lump sum, monthly installments, or they can sponsor an area to continuously assist families within that community,” Yonaka said. “But, if someone is reading this and they don’t have enough money to donate, they should know we are always looking for volunteers!” Volunteers can help with crowdfunding and charity events once event season approaches. Spare Key is expecting to have their first post-pandemic Gala event on April 30, 2022.

“This is a good, trustworthy organization that allows families to see 100% of a donation made to their need on for whatever expense or debt they choose and have Spare Key make that payment directly to the servicer," Yonaka added. 

This article was originally published in the Mortgage Women Magazine December 2021 issue.
Published on
Dec 20, 2021
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