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updated: 11/29/2013 12:01 PM

Seasonal jobs give Ala. residents needed income

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Associated Press

DOTHAN, Ala. -- Austin Luginbill saw the holidays approaching and knew he needed to find a job.

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With bills and shopping costs sure to mount, time was of the essence.

"I definitely needed something when I left (my previous job), because in today's economy, you can't afford to be unemployed for any length of time," said Luginbill, 26, a Slocomb resident.

Luckily, Luginbill filled a need at a Sears store in Dothan, joining as a merchandise and customer assistant on a temporary basis, lasting through the end of the year.

Retailers like Sears are scrambling to meet the needs of the busiest shopping season of the year.

That need for workers comes while the state unemployment rate hovers around 6.5 percent, leaving many families without the means to both buy gifts and keep their bills paid.

"It's extremely important," said Luginbill, who recently started with Sears. "A lot of people rely on seasonal (jobs) to support their families, keep their house in good shape, keep everything running, and it also gives us a chance to get our foot in the door and show Sears we're worthy of a permanent position."

The holidays, which are meant to be pleasant, can often become an albatross for those without steady work.

"With the economy like it is and gas prices so high, that affects everything," said 28-year-old Jesse McCarthy, who recently began seasonal work for ScreenTech in Dothan. "Every little bit helps. It's getting that extra money for Christmas, just being able to provide Christmas for your family."

For retailers, the temporary hires are necessary to maintain order during a hectic period.

"We usually start hiring in September and increase our staff by 40 to 50 percent," said Ginger Spry, store leader for JC Penney. "It's extremely important, because there's no way we could handle the volume of holiday customers properly (otherwise). Business will increase every week until (Dec.) 25."

Spry said the seasonal workers come from all walks of life and backgrounds.

Some, like 19-year-old Abbi Brunson, are college students looking for work during their Christmas vacation.

"As a college student, it is very helpful to me as I prepare to pay for semester fees at Auburn," said Brunson, who works at Eagle Eye Outfitters. "Finding a job during the holidays was something that I absolutely needed to do. It worked out perfectly for me. When the semester starts back, (the job) just ends, so Eagle Eye was very accommodating for my schedule."

Diana Gilbert left her job of eight years back in September, but financial realities led to her joining Sears as a seasonal worker.

"It's very important to us, because even though my husband has a good job, me working is necessary to pay our bills and do the things we need to do," said Gilbert, 39. "I know right now with the job market like it is, it's hard for a lot of people."

Newcomers to the area often try to use seasonal jobs to garner full-time employment.

Latifa Northern, 33, a former educator from Texas, moved to Dothan in August with no connections in the area.

Her mother told her about a seasonal job opening at Sears, and she pounced on the opportunity.

"I don't do a lot of seasonal shopping myself, but it's definitely important to have income," said Northern, who works in fine jewelry at the store. "It's been wonderful. Everybody has been very nice and welcoming. They treat me like I've been here since 1902."

Spry said her seasonal jobs usually end by January, but the experience is valuable for employees.

"We have everyone from college students to people that may be looking for an extra job on nights and weekends, people who don't work and are looking to work to make holiday money, or people who get seasonal jobs in hope of it turning into a permanent position," she said.

One common thread among these temporary workers shines through: gratitude.

"Growth is always good, so it's excellent to come into a company that offers growth and opportunities like that," Northern said.

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