By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
Effingham Post Master Diane Miller has two words to describe the rush on mail this Christmas.
Just three days before Christmas Day, the scanning computers had racked up 1,434 parcels that morning in the Effingham Post Office. There were 25,000 letters received the same day. Many in the Effingham Post Office believe this is one of the busiest holiday mailing seasons ever.
“We’re brought in part-time rural carriers. And we still had carriers on those routes staying out as late as 9 p.m.,” said Miller, who took over as local Post Master in late October.
That makes for a long day when you consider rural carriers come in to pack for their routes at 6:45 a.m. The city route carriers also faced some long days as well.
Postal workers are traditionally been busy at Christmas time. But the added volume of mail is not about more Christmas cards or letters to Santa hitting the mailboxes. Now parcels of all shapes and sizes ordered on the Internet are changing the mail game more than ever.
“The Amazon packages have a same-day delivery guarantee after Thanksgiving if the package gets to our post office before 8 a.m.,” Miller explained as she walked through the mail carrier area packed with carts holding cartons of letters, newspapers, magazines and the many packages ordered through stores or the Internet.
When Miller first started in the Postal Service more than 28 years ago, the first class mail, including letters, cards and documents, were the major part of mail volume. Now the parcels are part of a contract with Amazon.com that, along with other parcel delivery contracts, provides additional revenue for the Postal Service.
But those packages can come in any size and loaded together as a group on pallets. That can make quick loading and delivery a challenge for carriers.
“Our dimensions can be 135 inches max. But I saw a gas grill come through here. We limit the weight to 70 pounds. On Nov. 30, we had eight pallets come in. Those pallets were stacked higher than the carriers,” Miller said.
It takes technology, loading tactics and elbow grease to get the parcels and the first class mail loaded in the mail delivery vehicles.
“It can be an issue when we don’t have enough room in the vehicle,” Miller said.
Her office has 13 white and blue vehicles for use on routes. Many carriers on rural routes, especially part-timers, use their own vehicles.
Electronic scanning helps funnel the mail to the right addresses. Miller said scanning has many advantages, but it does have its headaches as well.
“Scanning with the hand devices has developed over the past five years. We can know where a package is at every stop. People want to know where their package is, especially at this time of year. But I do get calls asking what they should do if they put down an old address by mistake. Or they are worried it won’t come in time,” Miller said.
A Postal Service app is available to answer some of those questions. However, one way to get that special present delivered in time for Christmas was to mail early, preferably 10 days before the holiday.
“For the rest of the year, it might be five to seven days for standard shipping to get it on time. But for Christmas, it is bumped up to 10 days,” Miller said.
Some parcel shoppers do jump into the Postal Service stack early. Miller noted Nov. 30, the Monday after Black Friday, was the busiest mailing day for her office.
The carriers and other postal workers in the back of the post office were not the only ones affected by the Christmas rush. The front counter had customers lining up for different services or seeking information on rates or mailing rules.
This holiday season, the Effingham Post office whittled down the counter lines by placing an employee at the main entrance to handle simple transactions or provide advice. That lobby clerk had a hand-held computer to process a transaction, such as a purchase of stamps, quickly away from the counter.
“We cut down the lines that way by having that lobby clerk at this time of year. They were able to get someone served in two or three minutes without having to stand in line,” Miller said. “Our customer service is still vital. I like to look at how the counter service is going. Sometimes, I can gauge it by just looking at the customers’ faces.”
The holidays can also be a stress on the other side of the counter. Miller and her supervising staff have worked to make sure morale stays high even with the hectic schedule.
“We had a breakfast for the carriers recently to let them know we appreciated what they were doing. I think that went over well,” Miller said.
As the countdown to Christmas approached, many of the carriers seemed jovial. They seemed more worried about a newspaper photographer snapping pictures more than the mass of mail before them.
Chuck Cox, whose rural mail route has the highest volume of parcels, was smiling and joking as he placed mail in the three stacks of slots around him. It was obvious the holiday rush was not getting him down or many of his co-workers.