South Florida

A Miami foundation helps those in their darkest hour – when a destitute loved one dies

Carlos Joel Bencomo, president of the Bencomo Foundation, in the Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery in June 2019.
Carlos Joel Bencomo, president of the Bencomo Foundation, in the Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery in June 2019. Special for the Miami Herald

When a young Miami woman was found dead from an apparent drug overdose, her anguished mother did not have the money for a proper funeral. But she was assisted by a Miami foundation that helps poor people to provide proper funerals for relatives.

Luz Concepción, the young woman’s sister-in-law, told el Nuevo Herald that the mother asked her to handle the arrangements while she cared for the dead daughter’s four children, including a one-month-old baby.

The family spent nearly four days looking to buy an affordable cemetery plot, perhaps paying for it in installments. But neither option was possible, and they started to consider the possibility of cremation.

“If you don’t have the full amount of money, they don’t allow you to bury in a cemetery. And the funeral home does not pick up the body from the morgue. We were considering cremation if we had no other option, but that’s a very sad alternative,” she said.

But Concepción heard about the Bencomo Foundation, a nonprofit created four years ago to help families in Miami-Dade County that cannot afford to give their dead relatives a proper burial.

“I am very grateful to Mr. Carlos, who helped us at a time when we didn’t know what to do. I regard the service offered by the foundation as a blessing, a great help for families, for people in need,” she said.

Carlos Joel Bencomo, founder and president of the foundation, said it is doubly painful for relatives of the deceased when they do not have the funds needed to pay for a burial.

Luz Concepción received help from the Bencomo Foundation when her sister-in-law died, leaving four children. Daniel Varela

Bencomo, who has worked for several years in the sale and purchase of cemetery lots, said he was involved in a case five years ago that drove him to establish the foundation.

The 19-year-old son of a friend from Alquizar, Cuba, was killed in an accident in Miami. The parents could not afford to bury their son.

“It’s important, and I always insist on this, that the foundation was created to help, but that in this country — and, above all, in Miami — all the cemeteries and nearly all of the funeral homes offer ways for the families to prepare for a burial before it happens,” he said.

The foundation is the only one of its type in the United States so far, said Bencomo Foundation spokeswoman Sonia Valdés.

“In my 30 years of experience in the community and the cemetery and funeral home industry, it is the only one that helps at a time of need. There’s nothing like it, even in the government sector,” Valdés said.

The foundation has helped 14 families since its start; one the first year, three in the second, seven in the third and three so far this year.

Carlos Joel Bencomo, president of the Bencomo Foundation, in the Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery in June 2019. Sam Navarro Special for the Miami Herald

Bencomo explained that applicants for foundation assistance must prove they earn less than $12,000 per year, have no credit cards and don’t own a cemetery plot. They also must submit bank statements for themselves and the dead relatives.

La Fundación Bencomo de Miami ofrece ayudas para las familias de bajos recursos que acaban de perder a un ser querido y no disponen de los medios necesarios para costearse un funeral.

If applicants benefit from Medicare or the low-cost housing program known as Section 8, they must also submit that documentation.

The foundation’s assistance may cover all or part of the costs, depending on the resources of the applicants

Bencomo said the foundation provided partial assistance last week to the family of a woman whose religion does not allow cremation.

“When she died, the family did not have enough resources and they contacted me. During the prequalification interview I learned they had about $2,000 for the funeral, collected by other members of her religion. We paid for her plot in the cemetery, the vault, the opening and closing [of the ground] and the casket. Our help came to approximately $12,000,” he explained.

The foundation has covered the full costs of two cases so far, including the burial of a young man who had three children and was shot to death in Liberty City.

“Those people had nothing, absolutely nothing,” Bencomo said of the family.