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When there's no one to say goodbye, volunteers attend burials for the poor

Brian Bohannon / AP

Buddy Dumeyera, the Louisville deputy coroner who runs the indigent burial program, places a flag on 48-year-old Francisco Carmona's casket as students from the St. Joseph of Arimathea Society at Trinity High School prepare to perform their duties on Feb. 6, at Meadow View Cemetery in Louisville, Ky. The students are, from left, Paul Adams, 18, senior, Jeremy Gaines, 16, junior, Nolan Riley, 14, freshman, Greg Atchison, 17, senior, Sean Dageforde, 17, Jake Eddy, 18, senior, school principal Dan Zoeller and social studies teacher Chad Waggoner.

By Brett Barrouquere, The Associated Press

Kate Hopkins didn't know the man in the casket, never met him or his family. Yet, Hopkins stood watch over 48-year-old Francisco Carmona's funeral on a gray, cold day at a county-owned cemetery in south Louisville.

Hopkins joined a group of high school students, a few county employees and a deputy coroner on Feb. 6 to ensure that Carmona, who died in January in a Louisville hospital with no family or friends, had a service — the 91st service for the poor in Louisville since Nov. 1.

Counties across Kentucky, like much of the country, are seeing more cases of unclaimed bodies and families who can't afford to bury or cremate a loved one. Every situation is unique, but coroners and local government officials tell a similar story: The economic downturn has left many people without the money to pay for funeral services that can cost thousands of dollars, and it's falling on cities and states to cover the bills. Continue reading.

Editor's note: The Associated Press made these images available to NBC News on Feb. 26.

Brian Bohannon / AP

Students read the opening prayer from a program for the indigent burial of 48-year-old Francisco Carmona, who died in January with no family or friends, yet had a service on Feb. 6, at Meadow View Cemetery in Louisville, Ky. Carmona's funeral was the 91st service for the poor in Louisville since Nov. 1.

Brian Bohannon / AP

Workers prepare to bury Francisco Carmona on Feb. 6, as graves await the indigent at Meadow View Cemetery, Louisville's current Potter's Field.

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