With MEDA staff and volunteers tirelessly preparing tax returns for free this past season, it was definitely time to celebrate after the completion of 11 weeks of hard work. So everyone came together on April 24 to pause and reflect on their having forever bettered the lives of low-income Mission residents.
The impact continues to be major for what has become the largest free tax preparation provider in the Bay Area. This season saw 3,712 tax returns prepared for free at MEDA and its trio of other San Francisco VITA sites, with $5.42 million returned to the low-income community.
That would not have been possible without the 7,650 hours logged by those 166 volunteers, all boosting their career as they boosted their community.
“Every hour of volunteer time equals $650, based on what our families would spend to get their taxes done, how many tax returns are prepared for free by that volunteer and the average client refund,” explains Tax Program Manager Max Moy-Borgen. “The community is indebted to our tax volunteers.”
Volunteer Manager Lucia Obregon’s expertise as a recruiter is a vital part of making this all happen. One strategy for Obregon has been fostering partnerships with administrators and professors at such schools as City College of San Francisco, University of San Francisco and University of California, Berkeley.
Obregon explains the value for volunteers and clients: “Fleshing out your resume by preparing taxes and gaining experience in direct services is a definite plus for these students. As an added bonus, many of these volunteers get a chance to practice their Spanish-language skills, all while gaining the satisfaction that comes from giving back.”
Relationships with financial institutions have also been bettered by Obregon, with Mission National Bank. Golden 1 Credit Union and Charles Schwab sending scores of volunteers to contribute to MEDA’s free tax preparation service in the Mission. That includes everyone from bank tellers to vice presidents.
Even the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency drove up volunteering efforts, sending 12 staff this year, all as a way to give back.
A true community effort.
New for the 2017 season
It’s interesting to note that three of the five temporary MEDA paid staff for the 2017 tax season were former volunteers at the nonprofit. The skills they gained during their volunteer experience made this transition a logical jump.
Also of note is that a handful of MEDA tax clients from last year not only came back to get their taxes done at MEDA — usual for most clients — but they also volunteered to help others in the community this year.
To streamline scheduling. United Way of the Bay Area, which offers some of the much-needed funding for MEDA’s free VITA tax preparation service, helped out in another way this season. MEDA harnessed the power of that organization’s 211 feature. Available 24/7, the 211 helpline connected callers to MEDA’s free tax preparation services, with many clients appreciating the option to speak to someone in Spanish or any of 150 languages available.
At the Wednesday volunteer gathering at Bissap Baobab — a Business Development client’s brick-and-mortar spot located across the street from MEDA’s Plaza Adelante Mission neighborhood center — it was time for celebration.
Raquel Rangel represented the IRS at the event. Rangel stated that she was not just speaking for the IRS, but as someone who was born and raised in the Mission. She thanked MEDA and the cadre of volunteers for their dedicated service to the community — a community that includes people like her mother and grandmother.
One volunteer who shared his experience was 21-year-old Emmanuel Cancino, a University of San Francisco student. Cancino explained, ” I had an amazing time volunteering at MEDA and being part of the tax program, mainly because I was able to help the low0income Mission District community. I also made many connections with MEDA staff. I think the free tax program is important because getting taxes done is usually expensive — many people don’t have the luxury to afford paid tax services. It is a blessing to have MEDA providing taxes for free for the community.”
MEDA’s Obregon sums up the 2017 tax season as follows: “Thanks to all of our MEDA tax volunteers for donating their time and offering their kindness. As a volunteer myself, I know that one of the most meaningful things I gain from tax season is the connection to the clients. Hearing their stories. Being a witness to their hard work and resiliency. Our volunteers told me they feel the same way, and MEDA welcomes them all back for more fun and impactful volunteer experiences next tax season.”
Special thanks to the City and County of San Francisco-Human Services Agency, United Way of the Bay Area and Bank of the West for helping low-income residents do their taxes at no cost.
Interested in volunteering as part of the VITA team preparing the most free tax returns in the San Francisco Bay Area?
Join us! Take five minutes to sign up now for the 2018 tax season.
Questions on volunteer opportunities in the Mission?
Contact Lucia Obregon: (415) 282-3334 ext. 156; firstname.lastname@example.org.