This time of year, people tend to bring George Davis shopping bags stuffed with statements and receipts and scribbled lists for him to decipher. On Thursday, Joe McGarity brought him a single piece of paper.

The rest was in McGarity's head, which has become startlingly clear.

"I'm two months sober," McGarity said matter-of-factly to the tax preparer as they sat in a Germantown storefront and worked to distill a year's worth of adventure into numbers.

McGarity is 50, a gravestone cutter and handyman with an intense, engaging manner who is trying, as he put it, "to get back on the grid."

The 1099 form that he pushed across the desk toward Davis showed that last year he earned just under $19,000.

For free, Davis does the taxes of patients at the St. Catherine Laboure Clinic, which serves the poor and those without health insurance. He is a retired Lincoln Financial executive who started volunteering three years ago, and he finds himself more and more popular - 40 returns so far this year, and $50,000 in refunds, which makes him a godsend to people like Janet McCall. She wasn't expecting her $300 lagniappe. "He's a great man," she says.

The year before, McGarity had taken what records he had of his earnings and expenses and sent them to the IRS, with the instruction "you figure it out."

How'd that work? I asked.

"I think it worked out to his disadvantage," Davis said. "The IRS isn't Santa Claus."

But Davis might be, with his gold-rimmed glasses worn low on his nose as he plugged figures into a computer program created by Benefit Bank, which seeks to connect the poor to public funds.

"Don't own your house, didn't buy a new car, don't pay alimony or have a student loan," Davis said, more statement than question.

Davis typed, McGarity talked, scribbling notes on a pack of USA Menthols, which McGarity called "my BlacklungBerry." He told how his boss warned that if his drinking interfered with work, he'd be fired. After calling in sick one morning that still felt like the night before, McGarity marched himself into the clinic at Germantown and Rittenhouse. He was worried about chest pains, which turned out to be nothing serious, and the drinking, which was.

There he saw a notice that Davis was available to do taxes for clinic clients. McGarity made an appointment.

For several hours Thursday, they talked, Davis probing for expenses that would lower the man's taxable income. The handyman had had no taxes taken out of his paycheck.

"You're going to owe some money," Davis warned. He kept figuring.

Davis was 62 and retired all of three months from Lincoln Financial, where he was the senior vice president for human resources, when he signed up with a Jesuit-founded program called Ignation Volunteer Corp.

The beauty of Ignation was that it places retirees where they can work part time and have summers off. Didn't turn out that way for Davis.

Three or four days a week, year-round, he drives from Penn Valley to the privately funded clinic, where he has taken over all the paperwork - tracking expenses, paying bills, even procuring a half-million dollars in donated drugs from pharmaceutical companies.

He serves on the boards of Community College of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Futures. This work is more granular, which he appreciates. "I could write a book," he said.

It was time for the bad news. He looked at McGarity. He owed $2,172.

McGarity seemed surprised.

"Oh, sounds good to me," he said.

"Does it? It's better than you thought?"


Before he left, McGarity dug into the pocket of his khakis and fished out a couple of fives.

"Can I give you $10?"

Davis shook his head firmly.

"No," he said. "My satisfaction is helping out."

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