Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night can keep U.S. postal workers from delivering the mail — and the same thing might be said for AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteers, who found a way to help their mostly older, low-income taxpayers prepare and file their tax returns despite the constraints of a global pandemic last spring.
AARP Foundation Tax-Aide is the nation’s largest free, volunteer-based tax assistance and preparation program. Each year, 36,000 volunteers in nearly 5,000 communities around the country help prepare and file tax returns for taxpayers. Until last March.
When the pandemic hit, service at every AARP Foundation Tax-Aide site was suspended while the Foundation determined how to resume safely. Although volunteers at Augusta Road UMC in South Carolina could no longer provide service in person, none of them wanted to stop helping.
"Most people are stunned, overwhelmed, and flummoxed by their tax returns."
As a Tax-Aide volunteer for the last three years, Denise Morgan knows how important this program is. “Most people are stunned, overwhelmed and flummoxed by their tax returns. They are just grateful for the help,” she says.
“A lot of folks did not grow up with computers,” she adds. “Many did not use them in their jobs. Maybe it’s because they worked in the mills that closed in the 1970s and 1980s.”
So, when it was decided last June that the Augusta Road UMC Tax-Aide site would be the only one in South Carolina permitted to reopen, Denise and her fellow volunteers knew they had to make things work in the physically-distanced environment of the pandemic. And they did.
Between June 15 and July 1, 2020, the Tax-Aide Augusta Road UMC site prepared some 150 returns, compared to a typical year where they help about 200 taxpayers. “People have a lot of trust in AARP Foundation’s program,” Denis explains. “They are pleased to know the training and structure are there.”
"If you get the same person from year to year, it’s kind of like a friendship. It builds community."
Denise says that volunteering with Tax-Aide is a job “you couldn’t pay me to do, but I do it because I think it’s worthwhile. If you get the same person from year to year, it’s kind of like a friendship. It builds community — not bounded by a highway, but bounded by trust and need and caring.”