The T4's and T3's are arriving. If we're trying to live on Old Age Security and Canadian Pension Plan contributions, we wish there was more. We open the income tax returns AND the instruction book and moan. How do we possibly begin?

Now, imagine if you're new to Canada and English or French is not your first language? Imagine if you're elderly or hard of hearing or blind. Doing income tax, fulfilling your obligation to report your income to the Government... it's a daunting task for most of us and almost impossible for the elderly, for those with limited resources.

Well, all over Barrie, sitting in little nooks or in offices cleared away for the purpose are 51 tax preparers. These are volunteers who come from all walks of life and who give their time to prepare tax returns for people who can't.

The volunteers--retired bank employees, military personnel, teachers, accountants, people good with math skills--are trained on new tax breaks, new programs by the folks at Canada Revenue. Armed with sharp pencils and calculators, they head out to eight locations in Barrie where they give their time from now until the first week in May to prepare people's taxes.

Ted Blaker is the Lead Volunteer (income tax program coordinator) in the city and there are coordinators all over this region. Ted lines up his voluteers and his locations and makes it all fit together. And then he tucks himself into a wee office at 34 Simcoe St and sees people himself.

Why? "It's so gratifying to see an older person who didn't know about the Guaranteed Income Supplement walk out with a tax return that's getting money back," says Ted. "A lot of seniors worry about losing something if they ask for supplements that are due to them. There's a lot of misconception."

Because they're trained, volunteers know where to look for tax breaks. And because many of the volunteers have been doing this for years, people often come back and ask for the same person. They feel comfortable. Ted reports five new volunteers this year, 24 returning, and 15 of those longterm volunteers. This very important service just got two new volunteers who actually work for Canada Revenue Agency and want to help on their days off. Allen Lloyd of Canada Revenue says even if a person has to pay and can't, they should still file a return, so they avoid penalties. Payment arrangements can be made with CRA.

So, who's eligible? Couples making $45,000 a year or less. Single people making less than $30,000 a year.

Where to go?
Allandale Rec Centre, Mondays 8:45 am to 12 noon, Tuesdays 12:45 to 4 pm
Collier St United Church, Wednesdays 10 am to 2 pm
Victoria Village, Wednesdays 12:45 to 4 pm
Parkview Seniors Centre, Thursdays 8:45 am to 12 noon
Central United Church, Tuesdays 9 am to 12 noon
34 Simcoe St, Fridays 9:30 am to 2 pm
Barrie Public Library, March 20 5 to 8 pm, March 21 11 am to 5 pm
New Start Personnel, 740 Huronia Rd, Monday to Saturday 9 am to 4 pm
Clinics end officially on April 30 but Ted says some in Barrie remain open an extra week for stragglers who don't owe but still must file.

What to take?
Last year's working copy of your income tax return.
Last year's notice of assessment that came back from the government.
Rent and taxes totals.
Medical expenses.
Slips that indicate income of any kind.
Identification of who you are.

Last year, in 2008, volunteers in this region completed 3,959 returns for those who can't do it themselves, 2,700 of them in Barrie. Most volunteers do an average of 50 returns but one volunteer managed to complete 294 returns.

What a gift!

Ted says the volunteers get as much as they give. Seeing the smile on a face, the relief in a voice is gift enough for the service. When people see they're getting money back, it makes all the difference in the world.

What's needed?

Ted expressed huge thanks to the places which provide rent-free rooms for tax preparers. "We have a demand for evening and weekend returns, but we have no location to do those. Having an evening and weekend location would be terrific," he says.

This program runs also in Bradford, Collingwood, Gravenhurst/Huntsville, Midland, Orillia, Essa, Innisfil, and Meaford. This service has been offered in Barrie, by volunteers, since 1971. A generation of volunteers have been taking on this task, supported by employees at Canada Revenue Agency.

To find out more, email: volbarrie@cra-arc.gc.ca or call 727-4109.

Thanks, Ted. Thanks to all your volunteers.

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