Tax Clinics – Another Way Food Banks Partner to Help Clients

Did you know that filing taxes can reduce poverty? When taxes are filed, there are numerous federal and provincial financial supports available in the form of GST/HST credits, federal and provincial child benefits and more that can significantly increase incomes. These are especially beneficial for individuals who are on provincial social assistance. Food Banks Canada (FBC) published a blog last year that explained the importance of automatic tax filing. Unfortunately, there are many underserved populations who do not file their taxes for various reasons, which means they miss out on many of the benefits they could access. 

Food banks across Canada have seen the importance of filing taxes to access valuable government supports, and many are offering free tax clinics. One great example is the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre (SFBLC), which has been running a free clinic since 2015. This free program is available to all members of the community. 

We spoke to Adeola Alawonde, a Community Volunteer Income Tax Program Coordinator at the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre, who shared: “The program is available to newcomers, low-income earners, seniors and students, and is entirely run by volunteers. It is also operating in collaboration with Canada Revenue Agency, which works with local community organizations through the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP), as well as KPMG in Canada, which takes care of the technology and software. Since starting in 2015, the Saskatoon Food Bank has been able to bring back millions to their community.” 

When the pandemic hit, food banks had to pivot their operations. As everything was shutting down, the Saskatoon Food Bank went virtual. 

“We had to close down our in-person tax clinic, and now everything is done over the phone,” says Adeola. This has not been easy. “It is much easier to help in-person than on the phone, but we are able to manage. The pandemic has made it challenging. We used to have 50 volunteers, and now we have 14, because of lockdowns, and I am only one person, but everyone comes here with a smile and all the volunteers are very dedicated,” continues Adeola. 

Despite the challenges, they are hoping to continue to help many more folks in the future by collaborating with KPMG, which has not only provided funding to Food Banks Canada, but has worked closely with FBC to create technology and process improvements for the clinic.  

“We get laptops from the CRA, and it has been helpful. We are still using them. And then KPMG has helped us with automated software. For the 2019/20 tax season, SFBLC was able to file over 2,500 Income Tax Returns for 3,243 community members, which brought in $9,879,011 in credits and benefits such as refunds, GST, Canada Child Benefit, Saskatchewan Low-Income Credit, etc.” 

The support from the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre does not go unnoticed. What brings joy to Adeola is all the good things she gets to hear about the work she and the volunteers are doing. 

“They call us sometimes just to let us know how grateful they are and how much we are helping them. Clients are always so appreciative.”