For Kathy Goldman, helping families file their taxes and take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a natural extension of the Community Food Resource Center’s (CFRC) original mission: feeding New York City’s hungry families. “Much of our work is focused on families struggling to make ends meet,” says Goldman, who founded CFRC in 1980 in the wake of government budget cuts to anti-hunger and school lunch programs. “But we are also working to help families build assets so they can become more stable financially. EITC is the single biggest transfer of wealth for low-income working families.”
CFRC combines advocacy and direct services to help New Yorkers in all five boroughs meet their families’ basic needs for food and nutrition, income support and decent housing. CFRC serves almost 200,000 meals a year at its Community Kitchen of West Harlem and Senior Dinner Programs. They also help thousands of New York City families access food stamps, housing and other public benefits. In 2001, CFRC helped over 2,000 families keep out of homeless shelters through crisis intervention.
Last year, CFRC also initiated a free tax preparation service to help low-income families increase their income by claiming tax credits and avoid the high fees of paid tax preparers. By some estimates, nearly half a billion dollars — $465,000,000 — in EITC is unclaimed in New York City annually.
CFRC set up toll-free hot lines in English and Spanish to answer tax questions, distributed thousands of flyers through churches, community organizations and unions and produced 27 newspaper and 1,800 radio ads. In a joint press conference with Mayor Bloomberg, CFRC was able to expose predatory tax preparation practices and highlight the importance of the EITC to working families. “One of the keys of the initiative’s success was developing partnerships with a variety of organizations, including unions and credit unions,” says Goldman. “By creating coalitions, we can be a much more powerful force for change.”
CFRC prepared and electronically filed federal and state tax returns for more than 2,000 low-income workers at nine sites, resulting in tax refunds totaling more than $3 million. The initiative also helped tax filers open bank or credit union accounts and access other financial services that would build their families’ assets.
Last year, CFRC also began its Community Culinary Training Center. The program uses the Community Kitchen’s equipment during off hours to train 40 adults each year for jobs in the food service industry and helps them find employment. One graduate is Frances Rodriguez, who had gone to CFRC’s West Harlem food bank after a fire forced her and her family into a homeless shelter. Rodriguez now has a part-time catering job at NBC that she is hoping will become full time. “I just want to get my foot in the industry and work my way up from there,” she says.
The Community Food Resource Center is a 2003 Honoree of Families Count, the national honors program that recognizes organizations that are making a difference in the lives of families struggling to survive in tough neighborhoods.