With the support of 50 volunteers, the Bucks County Opportunity Council’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program prepared a record-breaking 1,348 income tax returns for low or moderate income families in Bucks County this past tax season. The work was made more efficient this year due to the support of the Foundations Community Partnership, whose generous grant enabled BCOC to purchase new computers and printers for the project.
“Our volunteers are the lifeline of VITA; without them we would not be able to offer this program,” stated Eileen Albillar, Volunteer and Community Connections Manager. “Many volunteers return each year to help, and all are trained and certified before each season. We expanded our sites this year and are always looking for new volunteers.”
In the 14 years since its inception, VITA Program volunteers have prepared over 12,300 tax returns for workers with low incomes, facilitating returns valued at over $23 million. Most of that money stays right here in Bucks County, as clients use returns to buy everyday essentials at local businesses, pumping up the local economy.
According to Kevin of Lower Makefield Township, a retired actuary who helped out approximately 15 hours each week, the reasons for volunteering are varied. “The other volunteers are fabulous, and we help each other out” Kevin stated. “Plus, I enjoy seeing many repeat clients, and helping to give them peace of mind at having completed the process. There is real excitement when they are getting a refund. They are living on this money—not going to amusement parks or on vacation. The return is clearly a necessity and we make the process painless.”
Kevin estimates that the average return he files is $500-800, although he recalls a woman this season who was on the verge of tears after hearing that she was getting a $1,000 refund. She is struggling to help her son, who is fighting cancer.
Kevin enjoys spending time with the clients and other volunteers, who are all there helping each other. “It may be brief, but you make a connection.” Sometimes he explains to those who could use the money month-to-month, rather than wait for a refund, that they can adjust their withholding. “People appreciate us, they are not comfortable trying to figure it out.”
“It’s been a great year—no issues with the computers,” Kevin said.
Another volunteer, Ben of Doylestown, has helped for four years with VITA at its Warrington site, but also supports other BCOC programs such as the food program, and more recently Adopt-A-Family. The Adopt-A-Family connects a sponsor to a family who is working through BCOC’s Economic Self-sufficiency Program and needs support. Ben has always done his own taxes and enjoys computer work and working with numbers. Before he retired, he ran a distribution center.
Ben enjoys not only the camaraderie among the other volunteers, but also seeing some of the same people return each year to have their taxes done. New clients may be recently widowed and have no idea where to begin, or they are not aware of things like the Homestead Rebate that they may be entitled to each year. He enjoys being able to help them and sharing in their joy when they learn they will be getting money back. “Their level of income is not high to begin with, so any amount of return is going to help them,” he said. How do they say they will they spend the money? Ben recalls that many talk about being behind in their bills, and that a return will help them catch up.
In his spare time, Ben plays senior softball, but gets a special satisfaction volunteering. His first introduction to BCOC was driving the food truck to various distribution sites. When he has free time, he seeks out other opportunities to help people, such as delivering Christmas gifts to BCOC client families or helping to distribute fresh fruits and vegetables through BCOC’s Fresh Connect program.
In addition to Foundations Community Partnerships, VITA is supported by the First National Bank & Trust Company of Newtown, the Bucks County Foundation, and the IRS.