United Way: Turning The Tax Tables

By Madison Reilly

Tax season is a stressful time for most Americans. It can be particularly challenging for taxpayers who have found themselves homeless. It is a common misconception that homelessness is a dilemma exclusive to the unemployed. They can and do coexist.  According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 44 percent of the homeless are regularly employed yet still cannot escape homelessness.

Filing taxes can be overwhelming to the average individual. When your daily objective includes providing your family with a healthy meal and keeping your children warm at night, tax preparation becomes of little importance. Without the luxury to afford a professional tax preparer it becomes even less attainable. To combat this issue the Homeless Resource Network has partnered with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) for over a decade to provide free tax filing.

Lost In The Shuffle by Malorie Cirello
Lost In The Shuffle by Malorie Cirello

VITA is a free tax return preparation program. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sponsors VITA, which is established by local organizations within the community. VITA volunteers are trained and certified by IRS guidelines. Some include college students who are majoring in accounting.

United Way of Greater Mercer County in New Jersey offers VITA to families or individuals making less than $60,000 annually.

You can visit one of their sites located throughout Mercer County. Appointments are preferred, but there are several locations that accommodate walk-ins.

The following information and documents are required for tax preparation: photo identification, social security cards for yourself and all dependents being claimed as an exemption, employment wages (Form W2), unemployment collected (1099-G),  healthcare forms (1095 A, B or C), mortgage or rent interest (1098) and your property tax assessment card.

You will also need a copy of the previous year tax return or the last return filed.

If you are due a refund and want it to be directly deposited, then a bank routing number and account number are required. If you do not have a bank account, then it can also be deposited onto a prepaid debit card.

Many taxpayers chose to self-prepare their form 1040. This practice is not always beneficial to lower income families. There are various tax credits and deductions they may qualify for, but are unaware of. These credits could maximize their refund significantly. Without the assistance of VITA these credits may not be taken advantage of.

The IRS is regularly implementing new laws and regulations. A common credit for a low income family is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The program qualifies single adults with an annual income of less than $14,820 and married couples with less than $20,330 for receiving a credit of $503. This credit increases with each child. The IRS estimates that one in five taxpayers who qualify for this credit do not claim it.   

The mission of VITA is to assist eligible taxpayers in satisfying their tax responsibilities. To establish trust, the volunteers continue to maintain standards of high ethical conduct.  Individuals struggling financially would benefit from VITA. The program ensures clients receive their maximum entitlement available.  


United Way of Greater Mercer County provides the following VITA program locations:

Boys & Girls Club: 212 Centre St., Trenton

Walk-Ins, Mon, Tue, Wed – 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Catholic Charities: 39 North Clinton Ave., Trenton

Walk-Ins, Tue & Thu – 2 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Crisis Ministry: 121 East Hanover St., Trenton

Walk-Ins, Fri – 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Hamilton Public Library: No phone calls

1 Justice Samuel A. Alito Way, Hamilton

Walk-Ins, Wed & Thu – 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Latin American Legal Defense & Education Fund:

669 Chambers Street, Suite B, Trenton

Walk-Ins, Tue – 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.,

By Appointment, Saturday – 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., 609-688-0881


For additional locations call 211.


For more information provided by United Way of Greater Mercer County:

Call – 609-896-1912

Visit – 3150 Brunswick Pike, Suite 230 Lawrenceville, NJ 08648-2420

Trenton Area Soup Kitchen: “Spread The Word ‘Hunger.’”

By Ellen Choi

“Hunger is a huge problem,” said J Steinhauer.

Steinhauer, 30, has been working at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) for seven years, and is current the Development and Community Relations Coordinator at TASK.

He usually works on fundraising grants, posting information on social media, giving out ‘Thank You’ cards to donors or volunteers who help out, and supporting anything that can help the organization.

TASK is an organization which provides food to people who are hungry in the Trenton, New Jersey area. It also offers programs to encourage self-sufficiency that improves the quality of life of its patrons.

Steinhauer went to college in northern part of New Jersey, and obtained a degree in communications. During his time at college, he took a class called, “Local Change and Global Impact,” which gave him an idea of how a small area can help to develop a global change. After he graduated from college, he was looking for an internship that was for a non-profit organization. Steinhauer fortunately got an internship at TASK, and after a year of interning, he started working there from then on.

TASK helps people who are in need, but there are no specific groups of people who they choose to aid. Anyone who comes or visits TASK gets a meal or any information that TASK provides.

Fabulous Thunderbird by Daniel Brady
Fabulous Thunderbird by Daniel Brady

TASK has extended programs such as the Adult Education Program (AEP), which helps adults to learn how to read and write. There is also an art program, a music program and a case manager service program. People who are involved in these programs are even able to get help with getting a job, housing or utility, and preparing for the GED test. These programs are also involved with various organizations, so they can help people in many different ways.

Steinhauer started to help other people after he found out that there are actually not a lot of people who help other people.

“People often stay at home these days more than they go out,” said Steinhauer. “People usually do not communicate in person since our technology system is so developed.”

Steinhauer wanted to be a part of the solution to the problem of the increasing a number of people who are experiencing hunger. Steinhauer shows that helping one another can change our generation through co-operation.

The hardest challenge for Steinhauer at TASK is that it is so difficult for him to say goodbye to patrons.

Steinhauer has a house and a car, he can do anything for his personal life, but there are still people who are hungry all the time and do not have the opportunity to live a normal life without getting any help.

“These days, people usually do not talk about people with hunger,” said Steinhauer. “People even do not know hunger exists since they can get food easily.”

However, people, in general, need to think of hunger more and try to help people with hunger in different ways.

Steinhauer wants people to start telling others about the word “hunger.”

Steinhauer said that there are about 3,000 hungry people in Trenton. It is very important to spread the word “hunger” and come up with a solution to stop the increasing of people with hunger. Spreading out the word is the first thing that we can do in order to help those people.

“Always remember that there are still people out there with hunger and still need help,” said Steinhauer. “People, in general, should be the ones who start talking about the word ‘hunger’.”

HomeFront Bridges Digital Gap In Trenton


By Priya Soni

To be a teenager living in an era revolving around technology, as it is today, means seeing peers with their faces basically burrowed into their phones and computer screens. Pictures, videos, statuses and tweets are posted and shared amongst friends, as well as the rest of the world. Some posts, even, evolving from a simple video to a viral phenomenon in a matter of minutes, giving the individual a moment of fame. Though the Earth is vast and contains parts unknown to some, we constantly remain connected through the Internet. We befriend strangers in other places. We maintain relationships with those close to us.

With advances in technology, our means of acquiring education and information has improved significantly. We find easier ways to complete tasks through online mediums. It is easier for adolescents to speak with friends and professors online, and complete assignments at his or her own pace. Getting jobs has even become easier and more accessible — as recruiters post positions online and expect to receive interest from a vast number of students.

The Internet can be an incredibly useful tool, and to most American teenagers, an easily acquirable “necessity” taken for granted. But what is the Internet to a teenager who is experiencing homelessness?  

A luxury as valuable as gold.

Kids Getting On The Bus By Herman "Shorty" Rose
Kids Getting On The Bus By Herman “Shorty” Rose

The workers and volunteers at HomeFront, a Mercer County-based homeless prevention social services agency, witness this “digital divide” amongst those facing homelessness every day, and help bridge the gap between them and the Internet. The agency has been working with homeless, at-risk and very low-income families in Central New Jersey for 25 years,  and has been providing them with the tools and resources needed to become self-sufficient.  

When asked about the biggest challenge these depraved teens face, Meghan Brittingham, Volunteer Coordinator at the facility, said, “Definitely education.

Having worked at the agency for almost two years, Brittingham notices the challenges young and impoverished individuals face without easily accessible Internet connection.

“Being able to submit assignments and research online…and being able to excel in different subject areas is the biggest challenge for these kids,”  Brittingham said.

She mentions that teens with no Internet access or smartphones also struggle to communicate and keep in touch with professors, friends and family.

HomeFront strives to provide services and programs geared towards education and employment. Its primary focus for teens is to help them realize the importance of graduating high school and continuing their studies. Students are tutored in all subject areas, assisted with their homework three nights a week, and trained on how to use a computer, given access to computers and the Internet when needed.  

“Triumphant Teens” is a program initiated by the agency, in which the teens with the most need are given the opportunity to gain work experience and showcase their skills. The program’s three components are job readiness, tutorial and internships.

During the summer months, the program’s objective is more recreational and students listen to guest speakers and take weekly trips. This, along with other programs like Kids4Kids or Women’s Initiative, can be found on HomeFront’s website at www.homefrontnj.org.

The idea that a majority of teenagers are now provided with frequent access to technology is encouraging, yet, that does not mean we can ignore the deprivation faced by the hundreds of millions of individuals experiencing homelessness in our world today.

“Without the tools to succeed in school, their plans for the future may not have many options,” stated Brittingham. “We will continue our computer training programs and work hard to ensure accessibility…[and] continue to make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable population in our community.”

El Centro Provides Resources For The Spanish-Speaking Community

By Ian Salzman

After completing my Community Engaged Learning Day at El Centro in Trenton, New Jersey, I felt like I needed to know more about this community center. My friends and I raked up trash, and leaves with some of the workers of El Centro to improve the streets of downtown Trenton and to help those who live there.

Several of the leaders of the community service said they have been volunteering there for many years, and are familiar with some of the guests that come in. I was inspired by their effort to really help the community.

Founded in 1999, El Centro has been a great and supportive resource for the Spanish-speaking community. With locations in Burlington, Mercer, Ocean and Monmouth County, this center helps with job training, immigration assistance and many other basic needs.

Briana Sosa-fondeur, a senior at The College of New Jersey, has worked with El Centro for two years.

“Anybody can walk in their doors and say ‘I need help’ and they will find the resources they need,” Sosa-fondeur said.

Sweet Dreams by Helen Baeza
Sweet Dreams by Helen Baeza

No appointments are required and most services are free for anyone in need of help. El Centro can prepare some in need of a job. The community service center is connected with a lot of businesses throughout the county.

“They try to build up the economy within Trenton by helping people get jobs,” Sosa-fondeur said.

In addition to getting people jobs, El Centro can help immigrants pass their citizenship test. There are evening classes to prepare consumers for naturalization in the United States as well as other accredited immigration services. These services help them adjust to American traditions.

“In this country they value being American,” said Sosa-fondeur.

English as a Second Language (ESL) Classes are also available for non-English speaking immigrants. The students that attend these classes are mostly adults who aspire to benefit themselves and their families.

“They come from having two to three jobs and still are dedicated to take these classes,” explained Sosa-fondeur. “They are dedicated for their kids as well.”

El Centro is a very special place that is trusted within the Latino community. Teaching basic needs and job training techniques for immigrants it has played an important role for many within the community.

“It is a little family.”


For more information about El Centro please call (609) 394-2056.