Pandemic could change hiring, business and charities during holiday season

Seasonal employment is usually a mark that the holiday season is in full swing but because of the pandemic, these jobs may be the employment so many people need to stay afloat.

“At Christmas, we need to be fully staffed,” said Vasil Babamov, owner of First Street Restaurant and Bar.

Normally, seasonal hiring also signals the start of Southwest Florida’s season. “In season, we will need a bartender and few more servers to take care of the whole restaurant, so we will need more people,” said Babamov.

Since he needs the extra hands, First Street Restaurant and Bar in downtown Fort Myers is hiring right away.

Babamov does think business is beginning to pick up a bit. “It’s getting better every day and every week.”

Tom Smythe, a finance professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, believes restaurants won’t be the only employers accepting applications in Southwest Florida. However, he advises people not to waste their time with department stores.

“Anybody that has online and that kind of service shopping,” Smythe said.

Seasonal hiring during the pandemic will not be like the seasonal hiring we once knew, so Smythe has some advice. “There are more people out there. There’s likely to be more people competing for the jobs that are available, so start early, put your best foot forward.”

Organizations like Career Source say they’ve already seen more seasonal job postings than usual.

“The season coming up for us in Southwest Florida,” said Janeth Castrejon, communications manager for Career Source. “I think it’s going to be a pivotal time to determine how much have we been affected and how quickly can we recover.”

Everyone hopes recovery will be Southwest Florida’s holiday gift. “It’s picking up; every week is better than the last week,” Babamov said.

Career Source is holding virtual hiring events. Next month, there’s an event for anyone in the technology field. In November, they’re holding a virtual event for veterans.

The famous Salvation Army Bell Ringers are out earlier than they’ve ever been: 102 days before Christmas.

With so many families in need due to economic impacts caused by the coronavirus, many charities are getting a kickstart on holiday donations to make sure they have enough resources to help.

Ralph Connor said it’s hard to imagine the Holidays right now. There’s a pandemic and he lost his job.

He’s not alone: Many families aren’t really feeling the holiday spirit this year.

“For anybody, it’s a rough situation,” said Connor.

When the pandemic hit, Connor gave up his job to drive for Uber.

“Combined with my age and the COVID, it wasn’t a wise thing to continue doing,” he said. “I’m 82 years old. Mainly, it affected me that I didn’t have income.”

No income to support his wife and himself.

Vann Ellison, CEO and president of St. Matthew’s House, said normally when people go through financial hardship, they don’t ask for help.

“In a normal circumstance, a poor family a lot of times has quiet desperation,” said Ellison. “In the midst of their quiet shame and their poverty, they don’t ask for help as much.”

But now, six months into the pandemic, the demand for assistance continues to go up.

“We were assisting 40 to 60 families a week,” Ellison said. “Now we’re doing more than 2,000 a week.”

That’s why St. Matthew’s House is starting their holiday fundraising early by reaching out to donors, community partners and grocery stores.

The Salvation Army Kettle Drive also started Monday, well before it usually does, due to increased demand. However, this is online-only, and we may not see bell ringers until November, if at all.

Connor says it was extremely rough for him. “It was very tight,” he said. “There was nobody available that was financially able to take care of us.”

In the words of the Salvation Army, ‘Rescue Christmas’ starts now.

Reporter:Anika Henanger
Writer:Drew Hill
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