Free tax prep service on South, West sides is still well short of volunteers since pandemic

Ladder Up, a nonprofit providing free tax-filing assistance, said it’s seeking about 800 helpers, the number it had before the pandemic.

SHARE Free tax prep service on South, West sides is still well short of volunteers since pandemic
A volunteer with Ladder Up, a nonprofit that provides free tax-filing assistance, helps a client at a tax clinic in 2022.

A volunteer with Ladder Up helps a client at a tax clinic in 2022.

Eulalio Fabie De Silva/Provided

A nonprofit that provides free tax-filing assistance, helping families save more than $1 billion over three decades, is still well short of the number of volunteers it needs this tax season.

Ladder Up has provided free tax assistance and related legal services to low-income families around Chicago since 1993, but the number of volunteers registering to assist has fallen precipitously since the pandemic.

“How many people we can serve is a function of how many volunteers we have,” said executive director Phyllis Cavallone-Jurek.

For 29 tax seasons, the nonprofit has returned its 750,000 clients a total of $1.4 billion in tax refunds across 12 locations across Chicago. Most of the locations are on the South and West sides, but there are branches in Plainfield, Aurora, Dunning and Uptown.

Last year, 400 volunteers signed up, helping to file 11,400 tax returns and saving $22 million in tax returns, she said.

It was an improvement over 2020, when 200 people volunteered, and 2021, when it filed 6,000 tax returns, but still well short of the typical number of helpers.

“Our goal this year is to get to 800 volunteers, the number that we had pre-COVID,” Cavallone-Jurek said.

The nonprofit’s 11 clinics and main office open Jan. 28. Before then it hopes to have a new set of trained volunteers. All volunteers receive three to four hours of training and have to pass a test. To sign up, visit www.goladderup.org/volunteer.

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

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