For Philadelphia funeral director Patricia Quinn, helping bereaved families bury their children is tough enough.
But finding out they can’t afford to hold a funeral for their children, let alone bury them, was heartbreaking.
“It’s so devastating,” says Quinn, 49, the mother of a 15-year-old girl. “Most of the parents are young. They barely have insurance on themselves, let alone on their kid.”
So she decided to do something about it.
In March 2006, she founded Final Farewell (finalfarewell.org), a nonprofit that has so far paid for funerals, headstones, graves or urns for more than 500 children in Pennsylvania and across the country.
“She’s probably the single most dedicated human being I’ve ever met,” says Sylvia Urrata, a former bereavement care coordinator at the Philadelphia medical examiner’s office. “She’s never once declined to help with any child I had.”
The very first family Quinn helped was that of Eddie Lichtenhahn, the 9-year-old son of a Philadelphia police officer who died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in February 2006. She saw a flier for a ‘Beef ‘n Beer’ fundraiser for the boy’s funeral costs and knew she could help—ultimately negotiating a lower price for his headstone and then pitching in with a $500 donation.
“I couldn’t thank her enough,” the child’s father, Ed, 59, tells PEOPLE. “It meant a lot to us and it always will. I’ve always said to her — whatever she needed, I’d be there for her.”
For the first couple of years Quinn had to seek out families to help through death notices in local newspapers. But after a while, she developed a network of social workers at local hospitals and the local medical examiner’s office who would contact her when they had someone in need, she says. Finances are often tight but Quinn refuses to turn anyone down.
“It’s just the right thing to do,” she says. “I cannot imagine having your child pass away.”
Know a hero? Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more inspiring stories, read the latest issue of PEOPLE magazine.