The Postal Service and its 800,000 employees intend to make this the best holiday season ever. "We've always taken Christmas real seriously, it's a special time," said Montie Escue, postmaster at the Sikeston Post Office. "We kind of identify with Christmas. You think of Christmas and you think of the post office."
Despite the recent anthrax attacks, the U.S. Postal Service expects to deliver just as much holiday mail as last year nationwide, moving about 20 billion pieces of mail between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.
The agency expects to handle 122 million cards and letters per day nationwide this holiday mail season, compared to 88 million per day during the year. It is expected the Postal Service will handle more than 147 million holiday packages nationwide in December alone.
The Postal Service has been on alert since October, when the first of several anthrax-contaminated letters surfaced. Since then, postal inspectors, the FBI and law enforcement agencies are closely watching for anything suspicious.
What customers are being asked to do this holiday season is to print clearly, use return addresses on letters and packages, make sure the correct zip code is used and mail packages and cards as soon as possible.
"Of course we'll check packages and look at them but make sure you prepare them properly. Make sure that if you've got a package to mail you've got it sufficiently addressed and wrapped securely," stressed Escue. "Especially if it's breakable, you want to make sure you've got plenty of packing in there. Use a good, sturdy box, not some of these little flimsy shoe boxes, shirt boxes and that type of thing. You want something that will stand up to a little bit of weight and you might want to try our insurance services and so forth just for that little bit of protection."
As usual, the Sikeston Post Office will deliver express mail and Christmas-looking packages, including perishables, on Christmas Day. However, employees urge customers who know they will be receiving a package Dec. 25 but will be out of town to call the post office and let employees know ahead of time or make arrangements with the post office where the package can be placed at the home.
Individuals planning on sending a package to be delivered on Christmas Day are urged to mail it a little early. Escue said far too often these packages are delivered, only for the carrier to find no one at home Christmas Day.
The U.S. Postal Service is doing its part to brace for the seasonal burst of mail by adding 86 airplanes, increasing ground transportation, extending hours at local offices and hiring 5,000 to 10,000 temporary workers.
Although as of Monday the Sikeston office had not yet started seeing an overabundance of Christmas cards and packages coming through, there are definite signs that it won't be long.
"We're starting to see traffic, people at the window," Escue said Monday afternoon of those in line to purchase Christmas stamps and other items. "We're backed up here today seriously bad, I mean we've got some long lines out there."
Maybe they didn't know about the various options available for those simply wanting to mail Christmas cards. In addition to using the vending machines in the post office lobby, patrons can receive stamps by mail request and the post office will mail the stamps back usually within a day. Patrons can also send a check to the post office and the stamps will be sent back in an envelope that same day. Or, requests can even be made by fax, 471-0606, and a carrier will be sent out to collect the money.
He noted for convenience, carriers who deliver on rural routes always carry stamps with them for their customers to purchase, a service that dates back 50 years.
The USPS lost almost 50 percent of its volume that used to be on commercial carriers because of new Federal Aviation Administration regulations and less mail. In response, it has added 194 more truck routes compared with 94 last year. The postal service also is turning to wider-body planes that aren't being used by passenger airlines.
FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service predict a normal holiday season. UPS said this month that it expects to deliver more than 325 million packages globally during the holiday peak season.