published Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Customers prepare to deluge post office gears up for rush

Jennie Hobbs addresses a present to her best friend in Little Rock, Arkansas, at the United States Post Office on Shallowford Road in Chattanooga on Monday. With Christmas less than a week away the post office was a hub of activity all day.
Jennie Hobbs addresses a present to her best friend in Little Rock, Arkansas, at the United States Post Office on Shallowford Road in Chattanooga on Monday. With Christmas less than a week away the post office was a hub of activity all day.
Photo by Alex Washburn /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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    Elisabeth Montague busily wraps presents for her grandparents on the floor of the United States Post Office on Shallowford Road in Chattanooga on Monday. With Christmas less than a week away the post office was a hub of activity all day.
    Photo by Alex Washburn.
    enlarge photo

  • photo
    Karin Hennessee weighs christmas cards at the United States Post Office on Shallowford Road in Chattanooga on Monday. Hennessee is a 28-year veteran of the United States Postal Service.
    Photo by Alex Washburn /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The local mail center processed as many as 70,000 packages Monday, about double the normal numbers, on the busiest package shipping day of the year.

Today is expected to be the highest volume day for letters, with the post office distribution center on Shallowford Road sending off about 700,000 of the 801 million cards and letters sent nationally.

As she sat on the floor at the General Mail Facility preparing to ship her gifts, Elisabeth Montague wasn't worried about other customers rushing around her. Her grandparents and cousins are waiting in Oregon and California to hear from her, so she had one thing on her mind.

"I'm just trying to mail it," she said.

Today is the last day to ship via First Class mail to ensure pre-Christmas delivery without paying a premium.

That deadline makes these two days the busiest for postal workers, and the days come toward the end of what is easily the busiest month of the year. Between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve, the Postal Service expects to deliver 16.5 billion letters.

"It's a good month businesswise," said Betsy Yoder, head of the Chattanooga distribution center. "It's packages, packages, packages. We've got plenty to deliver."

The first week in December, which is typically a little slower than the rest of the month, had higher than expected mail volume in Chattanooga. That's only ramped up as Christmas approaches. Yoder attributes a lot of the bump to online ordering.

To deal with the flood of envelopes and boxes, Yoder hired extra hands to help with the processing, fully staffing the center at roughly 300 people as Christmas delivery deadlines arrive.

Next year, those deadlines may fall a little earlier. Chattanooga's processing center is one of about 252 such facilities that could face closure after May. That would slow delivery times, but Post Office officials said it may save the federally mandated but not federally funded service from bankruptcy.

One way or another, shippers like Jennie Hobbs are glad to have a way to get gifts to distant loved ones. Every year, she and friends in Arkansas swap presents via the Postal Service. As long as she gets the presents shipped before deadline, she's confident her packages will arrive on time.

"They do a great job," she said. "I really don't worry about it."

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