An unexpected ministry: Churches serving as Tax Aide locations

By Denise Morgan

When we ask about a church’s mission projects or outreach efforts, we expect to hear about vacation Bible school or food banks or disaster relief projects.

But for many Americans, April 15 is an annual disaster. For some one million Americans, AARP provides their relief.

Greenville County has had service in four AARP Tax Aide locations for free tax help for some 10 years and in 2024 opened a fifth one. There are 33 locations statewide in that program. Free tax assistance is also offered at United Way Volunteer Tax Assistance locations. The Tax Aide and VITA programs are funded, in part, by grants from the IRS to the United Way and AARP Foundation respectively. Both programs train and certify IRS volunteers to prepare income tax returns. The VITA program’s focus is low-income residents, while the Tax Aide program’s focus is the elderly, hence its alternate name of Tax Counseling for the Elderly. Both programs are worth considering as outreach efforts in all areas of the state.

Augusta Road United Methodist Church, Piedmont, hosts one of the Tax Aide locations.

The need for these free programs is sometimes obvious. In Greenville County, volunteers saw some taxpayers who had some income but no need to file. Sometimes residents want to file to protect their identities from scammers, or they need to file to get a refund of money withheld in the year.

In some cases, the need isn’t so obvious. This year, we saw a taxpayer on our first day who needed to file returns for the seven years she hadn’t filed. In another case, on our last day of the season, our volunteers acted as a team to help an elderly couple who hadn’t received a tax form about their pension income. Our volunteer counselor knew their return would be rejected without it and proceeded as far as he could. To get a replacement tax form, they needed to have a neighbor navigate their bank’s phone system to download a copy of the missing form onto their cell phone. The couple returned to a different Tax-Aide location with the replacement on their cell phone and were able to have their tax return completed by the April 15 deadline.

During the pandemic, service was limited by local protocols and a lack of volunteers. When we reopened, we heard that some of our folks had to pay several hundred dollars to have their returns completed.

Besides saving money, AARP surveys indicate that taxpayers who come to us leave with peace of mind after meeting with our counselors. You won’t be surprised to hear our “clients” share their experience with friends so our number of taxpayers grows. You also won’t be surprised to know that so does the need for volunteer counselors.

No one church is likely to undertake a huge project on its own. It makes sense to reach out to neighboring churches and organizations to share information and resources. (Start with an idea of the population to be served in your area by checking out the local geographic statistics published by the IRS,

The number of taxpayers grows every year, but counselors are harder to find. Tax preparers are mostly retirees with flexible schedules who have preferences about where and how many hours they wish to donate. There are other volunteer tasks besides tax preparation, and no prior experience is required for any of them.

Classes begin usually in December, and service begins the first week in February and ends on April 15. There are several AARP videos that share what the program is like (—look for the National Recruitment and Outreach tab).

For more information, call 1-888-AARP-NOW or visit to see where your group can fit in.

To learn more about the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, visit

Having served at two churches that are Tax Aide locations, I’ve seen that some of these taxpayers return to the site as guests or donors just as they return to the senior centers for their activities.

This is a mission that meets the needs of community members to file their taxes and the desires of those willing to be local heroes with really cool shirts.

I’ll happily take your questions at [email protected].

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