Volunteers aid people with returns

FAIRMONT — Preparing taxes each year can be a difficult chore, but that problem can be exacerbated for those struggling with low incomes. Other problems can arise if people do not understand how to e-file. Fortunately, there are groups and people ready to help.

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide offers free, individualized tax preparation for low- to moderate-income taxpayers at sites around the country. Fairmont’s site is located at First Congregation Church UCC at 319 Downtown Plaza. Volunteers donate time each week during tax season to help people who would otherwise struggle with properly filing their returns.

One of those volunteers, Joy Pollock, shared what the program does, and just how volunteers feel about moving to the church from their previous location at the Martin County Library.

“This is much nicer because, although there was an elevator at the library, it wasn’t very handy and people had to go through offices and stuff,” she said. “A lot of the people that we help are handicapped, they have walkers and wheelchairs and oxygen tanks, that’s who we cater to.”

Pollock noted that the big space at the church is helpful.

“We’re seeing a lot more traffic because there’s not an AARP office in Faribault County any longer,” she said. “We used to just do Martin County, and this year we had to open it up. We used to do Iowa, but it’s just not plausible for us to go get the certification from Iowa so we don’t do that anymore.

“We used to do walk-ins, but people have to have an appointment now. We’re only running until April 17, so they need to get an appointment made soon if they want to get in. We see about 500 people come through here.”

For those interested, there will be an open house at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

“It’ll be a chance for some of the preparers to get together, and people have had things done can stop in and say thank you,” Pollock said.

She began helping with the program 10 years ago, and has been taking the lead in it for most of that time. She noted that the one thing they could always use is more volunteers.

“We’re short a couple of preparers this year from last year,” she said. “I’m kind of concerned because we’re doing all these returns from outside the county, and I’m concerned about the people we normally serve but we haven’t heard from yet. I can’t talk these people into giving up any more days in the week.

“We could always use volunteers, because we don’t have enough people to keep up with the demand for people who want their taxes done. They do have to be trained and certified, but all they have to do is go to the AARP website and fill out a volunteer application. But the software will walk you through it.”

Pollock said knowing how to use computers is now a crucial part of filing returns.

“I don’t remember when it happened, but the IRS decided they wanted all the returns done by e-filing rather than paper ones by hand,” she said. “They don’t want paper returns anymore, so they put a lot of money into this program, which they co-sponsor. They provide computers and software programs for us so everybody can e-file.”

As for the work itself, Pollock gets excited about it.

“Most people don’t get excited about it, but I do,” she said. “In the fall, I get online and look at the state and the IRS and see what’s new, and I look forward to the training. I love doing taxes; you get to feel good about the work you do.”

AARP volunteers are available to complete income tax returns from 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays through April 17 on the upper level of First Congregational United Church of Christ, 319 Downtown Plaza, Fairmont. People can make an appointment by calling (507) 230-4400.