| A different way to assist the poor
— completing their taxes
For a few Catholics who are good with numbers, Christ's exhortation to help the poor is carried out in a very different way.
Rather than helping poor people in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, they help the poor by preparing their tax returns.
The poor "need help with taxes more than anyone else," said Richard Vincent, an accountant who spends each Sunday afternoon at St. Peter Martyr parish in Pittsburg preparing tax returns for the poor. He is a member of Santa Maria parish in Orinda.
"There is a huge need," said Ed Beatson, who is a volunteer tax counselor at the Concord Library. "It is very difficult for the low-income, particularly immigrants, and especially the self-employed. They get forms but don't know what to do with them." He is a member of St. Monica parish in Moraga.
Walt Hubrig volunteers in another Concord tax center focused on the elderly poor. "I get a lot of satisfaction because I am helping people with something I know. It is giving back to the people." He is a member of St. Agnes parish in Concord.
Helping the poor with their taxes is an uncommon Christian ministry, yet it serves people through the same focus as more conventional charities — helping those in need.
Many are immigrants with limited English skills and low incomes, such as gardeners.
"I've learned to be patient," Beatson said. "We need to draw people out — and let them know immediately that we are not with Immigration (INS)!"
"An irony in our tax system," said Beatson, "is that you might be here illegally, but the IRS still expects you to pay taxes on your income."
Beatson and Hubrig both have been helping the poor file tax returns for several decades through a national AARP program.
Vincent began his outreach to the poor this year simply by calling the pastor of the predominantly low-income Hispanic parish and offering his services. Now through mid-April he spends Sunday afternoons helping the poor meet their legal obligations, and sometimes getting them refunds.
After finishing this year's returns for one large family — father, mother, three grown sons and two spouses — who work for landscaping companies, Vincent looked at their tax returns from previous years. He found they had not deducted legitimate expenses, so he prepared amended returns and got them more than $1,500 in rebates from previous years.
For giving up his single day off during the busy tax season, Vincent smiled and said "that did feel great!"
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