Op/Ed

Opinion: New tax deductions help us all

One important feature of the recent CARES COVID-19 recovery act has gone underreported. 
Donations to charities up to $300 are now 100% deductible even for those using the standard deduction. If you take the standard deduction, your charitable donations are additional to that. 
For those of you who might be in a position to make donations to your favorite charities, we hope this helps you to do that. In the COVID-19 environment your local frontline service agencies are facing trying times (as we all are). 
At the Charter House Coalition in Middlebury, where our mission is to provide shelter for the homeless, meals for the hungry, and social support to help get lives back on track, our workload has more than doubled in the past eight weeks. More pressure on our capacity to serve is looming. 
Our community meals program has continued as a “take out” service seven days a week. The number of people coming to us for those meals has been steadily increasing — food insecurity follows closely behind unemployment. 
Very early in the crisis, we moved our homeless guests out of the shelter into local hotels where we could significantly reduce the risk of community spread. Our staff and volunteers reengineered their operations protocols and we now provide oversight in the hotels 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 
Homeless people from all over Western and Central Vermont have been sent to us. That’s because social service providers in neighboring counties need our help while they work to secure stable housing for clients, and our model is working, though  not without daily challenges that you simply cannot imagine. We now care for over 100 people in the hotels. 
Charter House is by no means doing this alone. We partner daily with other local agencies that serve our most vulnerable neighbors, such as HOPE (poverty), CSAC (counseling), Turning Point Center (addiction), Addison County Parent/Child Center (family assistance), John Graham Shelter (housing insecurity), WomenSafe (safe housing) and our legions of volunteers from civic groups, local companies, houses of worship, and just plain neighbors. 
The Vermont State Economic Services Division and the Department of Health have been fantastic. Broad support from the Vermont Community Foundation and United Way of Addison County enriches all of us. The Middlebury Police Department continues to be amazing. 
Police Chief Hanley reported in his email update how our staff quickly determined an out-of-state person who was brought to us represented a health risk. So we got that person sent to an isolation site and he tested positive. We had already identified 40 people who might have had contact, got all of them isolated and tested, and all tests came back negative. It was a great example of the Risk Assess (Test-Trace-Isolate) protocol that is the most effective way to prevent the type of spread that is unfortunately happening now in other parts of the country.
Middlebury College has been doing a great job preparing meals for the hotel guests. The task has grown to the point that Charter House kitchen is also now preparing three meals a day. This is in addition to our longstanding Community Meals program. On June 1 Charter House will need to provide all of the meals for those in hotels. Our normal summer shelter program is budgeted to house and feed about twenty people. 
So our operations model has pivoted 180 degrees, and our service levels have gone up exponentially. With the help of all our precious partners, we are up to the challenge. 
If this new tax deduction opportunity helps you to help us, or any of our partner organizations, your contribution will go directly to that essential work that keeps all of us safer. 
To those of you who have already made contributions, thank you so much, and remember now to keep track of them, because they are deductible! Be sure to consult your tax advisor to learn if it is right for you.
Walter Stugis is board president and Doug Sinclair is executive director of the Charter House Coalition.

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