Philly monument maker's foundation assists grieving families with headstones

Tragedy and trauma are, sadly, two things many families across Philadelphia have lived through, with so many parents and grandparents joining the club no parent deserves – the loss of a child.

In these worst of times, many families have turned to the Lee Monument Company, the only Black-owned monument maker in Philadelphia. Jim Lee is the founder and owner. "Sometimes you sit back and you think, ‘What if I lost my child? Or if this was to happen with my family? How would it affect me?’"

As a father himself, he says he approaches the work with a certain level of compassion. "A lot of times, if you sit back and you think about the tears and the development in the corner of your eyes and you want to think about something else, because you don’t even want to think about something like that. This is a reality for these families."

It’s that same care and empathy that drove him to take his business and transform it into what he calls a ministry.

"Unfortunately, a lot of times, for children in the city, sometimes a family doesn’t have the proper insurance to be able to handle certain things, " Lee explained. "A lot of times, if they’re raising money, it’s for burial purposes only. So, a lot of times, what happens, as the years go on, the graves are there. They have no headstone on them where people can come out to remember them or know where exactly they are buried at."

He continued, "What was happening is a cemetery they were buried at, I would go out there from time to time, and we do work in that cemetery. And it always seemed it was like a lot of flowers all the time. I started to ask questions about, you know, like, well, what particular grave is this grave? And once I found out the information, I said this would be the perfect opportunity for us to start our foundation."

The birthing of the Lee Monument Foundation – alleviating stress from grieving families by providing a deserving headstone for their child, at no cost to them. The foundation focusing on children ages 12 and under, tragically losing their life in the City of Philadelphia.

Lee stated, "The last thing that you can do for your loved one is place a headstone out. There’s nothing else that you can do. So, when you’re not able to do that, sometimes it’s a broken feeling, especially if you have a child. Especially if it’s a child."

One of the recent notable projects of the LMC Foundation is a massive headstone that sits on the plot of the victims of the tragic apartment fire in Fairmount, one of the deadliest fires in Philadelphia’s history.


Philadelphia fire: 12 dead, including 8 children, after Fairmount rowhome fire

Authorities say 12 people, including eight children, have died as a result of Wednesday morning's fire in Philadelphia's Fairmount neighborhood. The property was owned, operated, and inspected by the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

It was January of 2022, days after the new year, when a raging fire broke out, killing an entire family, 12 people in total. Three adult sisters and nine of their children, the youngest child was just 2 years old.

Fast forward to 2024, FOX 29’s Shaynah Ferreira sat down with the surviving sister and grandmother of the precious souls, gone too soon.

Ferreira began, "I cannot imagine what these last couple of years have been like. I want to pose this question to you, to get your gauge in the midst of this nightmare. What is it like as a family to not have to think about properly memorializing your babies?"

Surviving sister, Estelle McDonald answered, "It took so much off of us. You know, just being able to actually concentrate on grieving and process the whole situation. Not being able, you know, to actually have the money to place these tombstones and having someone come in and being able to assist us with it. It brings joy."

She added, through their unspeakable grief journey mourning their loved ones, the grave has become a place of solace. "To visit them on every holiday. Birthdays. Just because. You know, we can still go there. Talk to them. Place the flowers, the cards, sing to them. We go there and play our music. You know, it’s like they are still here."

Something Lee says is the reason why he does the work, "You have to figure that there are 12 individuals. That’s 12 birthdays. So, they’re constantly out at the cemetery remembering the loved ones. So, just every holiday. The holidays that mean things to them. They’re there. They needed something nearer to be able to remember their loved ones by. And, that’s for all of the headstones that we do, all of the children within our program. They all deserve to have a headstone."

And, from this family, a message to the city for the outpouring of love, "Our hearts say thank you. Our family says thank you. Having the world open their hearts to use…it’s an unimaginable feeling, knowing that people still care."

Estelle continued, "’And, I was like, you know what? I’m going to reach out to this family. I’m gonna be there for them and pray for them.’ They open up their pockets and it’s a struggle time for everyone. But, they felt it in their hearts to say, ‘I’m gonna do this for them.’ We’re so thankful."