Shadow of terrorism hasn’t affected USPS holiday tasks

In the aftermath of the events of Sept. 11, a new twist on the old familiar postal creed has emerged as part of an advertising campaign for the United States Postal Service going into the holiday season.

Although not officially adopted by the postal service, the following new version speaks to the efforts of postal workers during the Christmas season following the momentous events three months ago:

“We are mothers and fathers. And sons and daughters. Who every day go about our lives with duty, honor and pride. And neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor the winds of change, nor a nation challenged, will stay us from the swift completion of our appointed rounds. Ever. We are the 800,000 men and women of the United States Postal Service founded Sept. 26, 1789.”

As postal workers in Hillsboro and surrounding areas gear up for this holiday season, the altered motto is a reminder of their hard work and dedication to get holiday greetings and packages delivered despite global threats.

Of the 10 post offices polled in the Marion County area, the consensus is they are generally as busy or in some cases a little busier than last year at this time.

“I don’t know that (the anthrax scare) has hurt us that much here in the Midwest,” said Ted Russell, Hillsboro postal worker.

Co-worker Kathy Woelk agreed with Russell, but added, “Some people still come in and ask, ‘Well, is it safe to mail this?'”

Now, more than ever, it’s important to make sure there is a return address on every letter and package, Woelk said.

“You’re supposed to put your return address on just to make it so people know where it’s coming from so people on the other end are feeling safe,” Woelk said.

This year, people are more conscientious about how they package items to be mailed, said Roger Krause, Lincolnville postmaster.

People are not reusing boxes, especially boxes with chemical brand names like Clorox, as they have done in the past.

“I remind them it’s best if they don’t (use that type of box), or if they do use it they cover it up,” Krause said.

Despite the chemical warfare cautions, the Christmas-mailing holiday season marches on.

Officially, the mailing season began Friday, Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving, and runs until New Year’s Eve, according to information provided by the Hillsboro office.

Most Americans send their holiday greeting cards and letters two weekends before Christmas.

“I think there’s people still mailing their Christmas cards like they always do,” said Jandee Moore, Marion postal worker.

Woelk agreed the Christmas card numbers look good, but the final totals on packages being mailed out shouldn’t be counted yet.

“Actually what happens is people procrastinate, and it’s going to be probably worse this year than it has been because of the warm temperatures,” Woelk said.

People are going to have to mail no later than Dec. 22 if they’re going to get packages to their destinations before Christmas, unless they want to use Express Mail, said Jay Christensen, Peabody postmaster.

While there are no official mailing deadlines, the postal service recommends the following:

n?Use Parcel Post service through Friday, Dec. 14, for all destinations and Wednesday, Dec. 19, for local destinations, defined as addresses within 150 miles of where a shipment is mailed.

n Use Priority Mail through Thursday, Dec. 20, for all destinations and Saturday, Dec. 22, for local destinations.

n Use Express Mail through Friday, Dec. 21, for all U.S. destinations or Saturday, Dec. 22, for local destinations.

For those who are concerned it’s too late to mail international packages, the post office offers the following guidelines:

n?Global Priority Mail delivery is four days, on average, to many countries for items up to four pounds.

n Express Mail International Service delivery is one to two days to most major cities.

n Global Express Guaranteed provides date-certain delivery or postage will be refunded.

All post offices in the county offer good news for customers concerned about waiting in long lines-the lines aren’t very long.

“So far as long lines go? No,” Krause said. “There’s maybe 200 people over here in Lincolnville. And there’s no waiting in line.”

Ruth Coyle, Lehigh postmaster, doesn’t have lines either, she said.

“People will congregate and visit in the lobby if I’m busy with someone,” Coyle said. “We’re working pretty hard, but people don’t wait in line around here. If there’s more than one person waiting for the counter, they just stand and visit.”

The longest lines so far were reported in Hillsboro, but those translate into relatively short waits.

“It depends on how many people we have at the counter working,” Woelk said. “The longest wait is probably five minutes.”

The longest line Woelk could remember was seven to eight people queued out to the front door.

Traditionally the week before Christmas is the busiest time for all post offices. Most of the post offices questioned in Marion County were anticipating the busiest delivery day to be Wednesday, Dec. 19.

Of the post offices polled, all will close early Monday, Dec. 24, and Monday, Dec. 31, in accordance with federally mandated guidelines.

Typical closing times on those dates will vary from office to office.

In Hillsboro on Dec. 24 and Dec. 31 the office will be open from 8:30 a.m. to noon. In Burns, they will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. Customers can verify other hours by calling their local post office.

In Hillsboro, Woelk pointed out a delivery policy change from previous years.

“This year we are not delivering on Christmas,” she said. “We have done that with Priority and Express mail, and we’re not doing that this year.”

Express Mail and Priority Mail may also be slower this year due to the long-range effects of Sept. 11.

“We are experiencing some slow down with our service with Express Mail and Priority Mail because of all this national emergency,” said Bonnie Vinduska, Florence postmaster. “A lot of airlines have had to change their schedules.”

The airlines don’t always make their connections with the postal trucks, but they’re working to minimize delays so mail can be delivered.

“It’s been a real handicap, but they’re still doing their best.”

One special letter has remained top priority for post offices since 1912-a child’s letter addressed to old Saint Nick.

While Santa receives all his letters, sometimes he needs a little help from others in the communities.

This year Santa is expecting thousands of letters, and many of them will be answered by a variety of Santa’s helpers, according to the postal service.

Various charitable organizations, local post office employees and volunteers, will make sure children receive an answer to their letters to Santa Claus.

At the post office’s expense, any letter with a return address will be answered.

“I had one that was definitely a child’s handwriting last week that had been deposited in my outside box here,” Vinduska said. “It didn’t have a stamp on it, but I went ahead and sent it. Hopefully, inside of it there’s a return address to send an answer back. But we gave it the best shot we can.”

The Lehigh post office has made it even easier for children to mail their letters to Santa by providing a pint-size mailbox in their lobby.

“We do a little bit more for (customers) because it’s Lehigh,” said Coyle. “There’s a lot of older people who live in town that just kind of want us to box things up for them and stuff like that. And we have some people who are handicapped, and we bring their mail out to the car for them.”

A positive Christmas spirit is being echoed by customers and employees throughout the county post offices.

At the Durham Post Office, customers seem to have a better attitude this year, said Lila Unruh, postmaster.

“That’s one of the things I’ve noticed since Sept. 11,” Unruh said. “I feel like people are just a little bit happier or just trying to be nicer.”

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