Santa's helpers: Post offices enter busy holiday season

Photo by ee

Photo by ee

COVINGTON -- The U.S. Postal Service estimates it will handle 16.6 billion cards, letters and packages between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.

Though that number sounds staggering, Covington Postmaster Shane Williams said that he's seen a drastic drop in holiday mail over the last five to 10 years. While the number of packages increases during the holidays, the tradition of sending cards and letters seems to be falling by the wayside, he said.

"I would urge people to send Christmas cards again," Williams said, adding that one of his most pleasant holiday memories is of his parents placing cards on the mantle. "It's a part of Christmas that seems to have disappeared."

Williams attributes the decline to e-mail and other electronic ways to send greetings. Birthday and other holiday cards are also being sent less and less these days, he said, and the art of letter-writing is barely being practiced.

While e-mail may be quick and convenient, it won't be around generations from now for children and grandchildren to read.

"E-mail is erased and you don't have that memory," Williams said.

So as Covington's postmaster, Williams is encouraging folks to spread some holiday cheer by mail.

"Send out Christmas cards this year to your family and friends. Get it in the mail as soon as you can, get it home," he said.

The U.S. Postal Service gives the following deadlines to send holiday mail for delivery by Christmas:

* Dec. 4: Military mail destined for Iraq or Afghanistan

* Dec. 16: Parcel post

* Dec. 21: First-class (most cards and letters) and priority mail

* Dec. 23: Express mail

If you're mailing a package, you may want to spend a few extra dollars on insurance, Williams said. The cost varies depending on the amount of coverage, but insurance can be purchased for as little as 75 cents.

Another worthy investment is the post office's delivery confirmation service. Senders can track their packages online for a fee of 70 cents for priority mail and 80 cents for first-class and package service parcels.

Those sending packages to military members overseas will want to make sure they follow these guidelines:

* Use the service member's full name. Mail must be addressed to someone specific. The Department of Defense no longer allows acceptance of mail addressed to "Any Service Member."

* Include the unit and Army Post Office or Fleet Post Office address with the nine-digit ZIP code if one is assigned.

* Include a return address.

* For packages, print on one side only the recipient's address in the lower right portion or print a postage-paid label online with Click-N-Ship.

* Select a strong box with room for cushioning.

* Cushion with Styrofoam or bubble wrap to keep items from shifting.

* Fragile items should be double-boxed with cushioning inside and between the boxes to absorb shock.

* Battery-powered items will sometimes get turned on during shipment. To avoid this, remove and wrap batteries separately.

* Tape the opening of the box and reinforce all seams with 2-inch-wide tape. Use clear or brown packaging tape, reinforced packing tape or paper tape. Do not use cord, string or twine.

* Include a card describing the contents of the package and the sender's and recipient's addresses.

For more information on holiday mailing, visit www.usps.com.