The Central Food Network is helping people file income taxes despite the pandemic.

The organization announced May 5 it would continue to aid modest-income households in filling out returns for free throughout the month. Although the typical clinics, held at local legions, cannot be offered, the network is offering support remotely.

Despite the challenges of social distancing due to COVID-19, operational and administrative director Tina Jackson said the group felt it needed to find a workaround.

“There are so many tax benefits and income support benefits that are linked to filing your taxes,” Jackson said.

“We know the government is giving some increases in those benefits and we want as many people as possible that are eligible to receive those. “We know now, more than ever, people are relying on every single dollar.”

The income tax filing deadline was extended from April 30 to June 1. Jackson said they were able to keep the program going for May with the help of a $5,000 grant through the federal New Horizons for Seniors program. It will be used both for income tax and food programming.

“We would not be able to be delivering this service without that support,” Jackson said.

The organization took on the service this year from Marlene Watson, a local 82-yearold who helps hundreds in the area file taxes every year. She opted to step back this year due to distance.

“Our agency felt very strongly this needed to continue. It’s a very valuable program that helps people to avoid accessing our services. If people have enough money to cover their rent, their hydro costs and purchase groceries, they’re less likely to have to rely on us,” Jackson said.

Watson said it was difficult driving to Wilberforce every year and said it is great the Central Food Network is filling in.

Meanwhile, she is still helping others in the area file taxes – about 200 this year in all. But being unable to hold more physical clinics due to COVID-19 has been challenging, she said.

“It’s a lot of people I’ve been doing them for over the years and I hate to say no to them, so I have them bring (the returns) to my house,” Watson said. “I’ve always enjoyed stuff like this and that’s why I’ve kept it up.”

To access the Central Food Network’s services in Highlands East, call 705-3060565 or email heatbankhc@gmail.com to make arrangements.

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