COTTONWOOD - What began as two couples serving hot soup from the tailgate of a pickup truck 26 years ago has blossomed into a Christian-based non-profit serving 36,000 men, women and children in the last year alone.
The faces of those in need range from the young child of a single parent facing school without supplies, to the middle-aged displaced worker whose unemployment checks have dried-up, to the aging Army veteran who, at the end of the month, has to choose between feeding his dog or feeding himself.
The Old Town Mission at 116 E. Pinal St. eases these life transitions by offering food, clothing, showers, hot lunches, school supplies, eyeglasses, haircuts, legal advice and medical and dental referrals to anyone in need.
But even for those not worried about their next meal, the economic uncertainty over the past eight years has taken its toll.
"I would say donations are down," said Darlene Boudreau, administrator, Old Town Mission. "People are not sure what's coming."
"I think it's down across the board for non-profits, with the economy the way it is," she said.
Not only are monetary donations down, but basic survival items such as clothing, as well.
"We are really running short on jackets," said Kellie Wilson, Old Town Mission general manager.
Squeezing the organization even further is the loss of venues such as Walmart to do jacket collection.
However, Walmart continues to facilitate food donation barrels, as do other private sector partners such as Cottonwood Village, Draxler Insurance, JPS Paint, Safeway, Tae Kwon Do Unlimited and Wells Fargo.
Fortunately, both Boudreau and Wilson echoed that local residents are consistently supportive of their less-fortunate neighbors.
"I feel Cottonwood and the Verde Valley in general are just very giving communities. I'm encouraged," said Boudreau.
"They've always been very generous with food products, especially turkeys," said Wilson.
No day goes by without the Old Town Mission offering some type of sustenance to the needy.
Hot lunches are served noon Monday through Friday, with sack lunches available noon Saturday and Sunday.
Essential goods (such as clothing and toiletries) as well as services (such as haircuts and job listings) are available between 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. every day except Tuesdays and weekends.
One way cash-strapped locals can assist those in need is by holiday shopping at the Old Town Mission Thrift store, located at 810 W. Mingus and SR 89A.
The store is open Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and donations are accepted. Pick-up for large items is available by scheduling an appointment at 928-634-1644.
As for the Annual Community Christmas Dinner, the tradition will carry-on, thanks to donors who practice the Old Town Mission's motto, "Neighbors Helping Neighbors Since 1989."
"We have faith," Boudreau said.By TOM TRACEY
While we may not have control over death and taxes, Arizona residents do have some control over where their taxes are spent.
The Arizona State Tax Credit program allows filers to divert tax payments that would otherwise go to the Arizona Department of Revenue and instead apply them to a qualified charity or public school of choice.
For example, if an individual owes $100 in Arizona state income taxes, that person could instead make a $100 donation to, say, Mingus Union High School Track and Field. That credit could then be directly applied to the income taxes owed, reducing the tax liability to -- in this example -- $0.
While a number of tax credit programs are available to Arizona residents, the two most popular are 1) the Qualifying Charitable Organizations Tax Credit and 2) the Public School Tax Credit. Highlights of these programs include:
100 percent of the donation can be directly deducted from Arizona state income taxes owed, to the extent allowed by law.
The donation can also be deducted from Federal income taxes owed, to the extent allowed by law.
It is not necessary to itemize deductions to qualify.
The allowable donation tax credit is up to $400 filing jointly or $200 filing individually per qualifying organization.
Donations can be made to multiple qualifying organizations. For example, a couple filing jointly could donate $400 towards a charity such as Verde Valley Senior Center's Meals and another $400 towards their children's school, even designating it to a specific program.
Deadlines for donations are Dec. 31. 2014 for qualifying charitable organizations and April 15, 2015 for public schools. These deadlines apply to the 2015 tax year.
For a specific list of organizations that qualify for a tax credit, view the Arizona Department of Revenue (AZDOR) website and click the Tax Credits link.
Additional tax credits are also available for private schools, military families and other situations. These programs are detailed on the AZDOR.gov website.
Always check with a tax professional prior to filing.