When it is time to file his tax return, Eric Freeman heads to one of New York City’s VITA sites.

"Because it's free,” he says. “A lot of places you go to today, right, you're spending $100 dollars to $250 and you know what, I really don't have to spend like that."

VITA, or Volunteer Income Tax Assistance centers, give qualifying New Yorkers the opportunity to have their taxes prepared at no charge.

There are hundreds of sites spread across the five boroughs, like this one in Harlem, one of many operated by the Food Bank for New York City.

"Last year we completed 85,000 returns for our clients and ended up securing through those returns a little over $141 million,” says Brady Koch, Chief Program Officer for Food Bank for New York City.

Much of that through the Earned Income Tax Credit, which returns thousands of dollars to families earning less than $53,000 a year. The maximum credit for a family with three or more children is around $6,200 - or over $8,000 if you include state and local credits.  That is money taxpayers can use to buy food, play catch up or set aside for their future.

"It helped me to pay my bills and do a little bit of savings,” says Adriana Sanchez, who used VITA services.

The money distributed through the earned income tax credit doesn't just help the individuals who receive it. It also has a big impact on the communities they live in."

"For every dollar the EITC refunds, $1.50 is recirculated back into the community and to the economy," says Nicole Smith, Deputy Director of NYC Office of Financial Empowerment.

The bad news is that not everyone who is eligible for the EITC actually claims it.

"And the result is that as much as one quarter of a billion dollars is left on the table by New York City residents who might qualify for this benefit," says New York City Councilman Mark Levine.

Part of the problem: they may not be filing their taxes correctly, or filing at all - excluding them from what could be the biggest check they receive all year.

"So even though you may think you don't need to file a tax return because you don't have anything withheld or you are getting everything back, you might still be eligible for the earned income tax credit,” says Darrell Weinberg, a senior tax consultant for IRS

Volunteer preparers are trained to screen for EITC eligibility among other things. 

Click here to view a complete list of VITA sites.