Free tax return help for people in need

April 9, 2009 3:21:03 PM PDT
Getting professional help with filing a tax return can be expensive. And for those down on their luck, professional help can be out of the question. But there are some free programs, like one at St. John's University.

The tax preparers are supervised student volunteers who work in the Bread of Life soup kitchen also run by the university. The students do tax returns that otherwise might never be filed.

"These clients of Bread and Life cannot afford to go out and have their income tax returns prepared by professionals," Professor Nina Dorato said.

"It was a little nerve-wracking the first time we walked in there, because we had absolutely no idea what to expect," student Fareeza Kahn said. "But I think that once we did our first return, we became a lot more comfortable with the entire process."

The process includes getting to know some of the people who come to Bread and Life.

"After a while, you get a good rapport with them, you know, you're able to talk, laugh, but yet, you're taking care of business," says Isaiah Cunningham, a soup kitchen client.

St. John's student Kuntie Sumrah says it's great when clients come out smiling because they're getting a refund.

"These are people who don't have much to begin with, and for them to owe money to the government, it would be kind of harsh," Sumrah said.

The students feel they have put their class work in accounting to good use, gaining more than just token refunds. Their tax preparations for people here at the soup kitchen have so far resulted in refunds totaling nearly a million dollars."

"We use the tax software that's gonna be similar to what we use in the future, and we are able to apply a lot of the rules and the facts that we learn in the classroom," student Anthony Lamantia said.

Fr. James Maher is a teacher at St. John's.

"They're growing and learning academically, and they're making a great impact on the lives of people who desperately need those services," he said.

With a start last year of only three volunteers, the program now has some 60 students, and it is expected to grow.

Web produced by: Maura Sweeney


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