Tim White, a Liberty Tax employee, points to motorists in Dalton, Ga. White, who is unemployed, uses the money he makes from his Liberty Tax job to buy medicine for his wife. Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press
DALTON, Ga. — When Tim White arrives at work, he puts on a long green robe, straps a Statue of Liberty crown on his head and pulls on white gloves before he heads outside to stand on the sidewalk for five hours, waving to passers-by in the sun, rain or freezing cold.
But White said he doesn’t mind the costume or the hours or the weather — every hour standing on the sidewalk means medicine for his sick wife, food on the table and a warm house.
“I’m able to buy food, clothing, pay utility bills and stuff like that,” he said. “You find whatever work you can and try to do the best you can.”
White, 48, is a construction worker but hasn’t found a steady job for more than five years. This is the second year he has worked part time for Liberty Tax Service, waving to people on the street to attract customers to the business off Walnut Avenue.
Managers at local Liberty Tax Service offices hiring part-time, temporary workers this year to serve as wavers through the busy months of tax season said they have seen more people looking for jobs as unemployment numbers remain high. In addition to the wavers, the businesses hire more part-time staffers to help in the offices from January to April.
Hiring workers who are down in their luck and desperately needing money is one way local Liberty Tax Service offices give back to the community, office manager Darlene Cook said as she juggled several phone lines and helped a customer who walked in the door. Even though the tax season can be hectic, Cook said, Liberty focuses on helping people, whether they are customers or employees.
Cook said she received about 200 applications for 25 positions, a significant increase over last year. The other two Liberty Tax offices owned by Alex Davis — a second Dalton location and a Ringgold office — saw similar numbers, Cook said.
The Georgia Department of Labor reports that about one of every eight workers in the Dalton area is unemployed.
Several of the people Cook hired are homeless, others are in halfway houses or working their way through rehabilitation programs and one is a spunky 72-year-old who supplements her fixed income. For many, like White, the several months they work for Liberty may be the only steady source of income they will have this year, Cook said.
“We didn’t intend for the wavers to be a ministry — it just happened when we saw those less fortunate,” Cook said. “Every single one of them has a story, and each story is personal and different. And we function as a family. They are not someone who just clocks in and out every day.”
Darin Haynes, who owns seven offices in Chattanooga and one in Fort Oglethorpe, said he is glad to provide a job for someone who hasn’t been able to find work. Haynes hired about 80 temporary workers this year, he said.
“We’ve seen a big increase, particularly in the Fort Oglethorpe office,” Haynes said. “Many of them are trying to support families. It’s a physically demanding job, but most of them have a great attitude.”
Dot Couch, who will be 73 in April and measures 4 feet and 9 inches tall, scoffs at the idea that a five-hour stint on the sidewalk might be too difficult for her.
She responded to Cook’s ad because she wanted to get out of the house, Couch said, and she was incensed when Cook offered her an office job preparing cookies for customers.
“I can do that at home,” Couch said. “I wanted the job as a waver. I’m having a blast out here.”
On a recent cloudy morning, she donned a sweatshirt under her green robe and left an umbrella and raincoat in the car in case it rained. Silver slippers and light pink pants completed her protection again inclement weather.
Then she stuck one earpiece from her lime green MP3 player into her ear and began waving in time with the music. The Statue of Liberty crown framed her short white hair and round wire-framed glasses.
Some people roll down their windows to talk when they stop at the red light, Couch said. Others wave. Someone even sent her a bouquet of flowers.
Couch said she grew up at various foster homes in the area and has worked dozens of jobs, including picking cotton. The job she has now is easy in comparison, she said.
“I reckon I had such a hard time when I was little, that the Lord has blessed the last years of my life,” she said, as she sipped Coke from a Sonic cup. “I’m just glad to be here.”
Back inside the office, White gets ready to relieve Couch from her place on the sidewalk, adjusting his robe over his clothes. He doesn’t need any music — he uses his own choreographed dance moves, he joked.
But he get serious, looking down at the table, when he talks about his wife, Brenda. She has high blood pressure, diabetes, deteriorating discs and a circulatory disorder.
Even though she draws disability, her health insurance doesn’t cover all her medication, and they have bills to pay. White worries what will happen once his job at Liberty Tax ends.
The past five years have been really hard,” he said. “I’m hoping I can find something — we always hope and pray.”
Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...