INDIANAPOLIS — While not every person dies in the company of loved ones, every single person deserves respect when they leave this world.
That's the idea behind the partnership between the Marion County Coroner's Office and He Knows Your Name Ministries. And they're hoping they will inspire other counties to do the same thing.
They held a ceremony on Thursday to bury 75 people who died in 2020 and 2021, but whose bodies stayed at funeral homes and the morgue, waiting for someone to claim them.
This is one of several ceremonies He Knows Your Name has helped organize in Marion County. And it was inspired by a major problem: The high amount of deaths the county faced during the pandemic, both from COVID and other factors.
"The problem was that: The unclaimed number of decedents that was at the Marion County Coroner's office, as well as funeral homes, is just climbing. And the there's no solution for it," He Knows Your Name Founder Linda Znachko said.
"I mean, (Marion County Coroner) Alfie McGinty, and I talked for 2 years, and she said, 'I don't know what to do with all of this in front of me, like how do we plan for something? How do we do something?'"
So, Znachko says, in 2022, she planned a memorial service for 173 unclaimed people.
"And then, from that, the Marion County Coroner's Office has decided to put in their plan of policy that, annually, they will now take care of the unclaimed," Znachko said. "So that there is no amount of people just getting put away on a shelf somewhere and not dealt with."
Staff from the Marion County Coroner's Office were in attendance at the ceremony Thursday, where more people were laid to rest.
"They've been working really hard to bring honor and dignity, and I respect that so much," Znachko said.
Znachko's history with honoring the deceased started before all of this. In 2009, she called McGinty to ask if she could claim the body of a baby found in a dumpster. With that one call, she was able to start a small movement.
"Little did I know that there would be other babies not only at the coroner's office, but there are babies left at hospitals and funeral homes," Znachko said. "And in almost 15 years, I've claimed 43 babies. So this problem of unclaimed is something that I know is really hard for the public to grasp and understand. But it's just taken years for us to develop not only an understanding, but also realize that there are laws in place that allow us to do this."
Znachko also helps install baby boxes in Indiana for parents to safely and anonymously place their baby in a safe place if they are unable to care for the child.
The newer efforts to bury adults are already effecting change when it comes to families claiming their loved ones.
There were supposed to be 78 people buried Thursday. But after three families heard about a similar ceremony in May, they looked at the county's list of unclaimed: And they found their loved ones.
That meant on Thursday, He Knows Your Name laid to rest 75 people. Three families found peace thanks to these efforts.