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Experts offer advice to reduce time spent in post office line

Posted: November 13, 2013 - 5:27pm

Long lines and post offices seem to go hand-in-hand. Especially during the lunch hour and when people end their work day. 

Parents try to keep youngsters occupied during the wait. Neighbors visit. Everyone keeps an eye on his or her watch as the minutes tick by.

“It’s the same across the nation. Peak times are when people get off for lunch and in the evening from 3-5 p.m.,” said Carolyn Sapp, the Homer postmaster for the past year. 

Add the holidays and the need to go to the post office increases, the lines get longer and patience gets, well, a bit thin.

On the postal service’s side of the counter, there are some changes taking place in Homer that may make things smoother.

“We’ve had some personnel changes and are in the process of hiring extra people,” said Sapp. “We’ve been putting in for it (additional personnel) and finally got it approved.”

As welcome as those changes are, they don’t happen over night.

“It’s kind of frustrating. It takes time,” said Sapp. “This is the government.”

The Homer Post Office has four counter personnel and two more working behind the scenes. There are 1,405 city deliveries, 4,000 post office boxes, one rural route with 517 deliveries and a second rural route with 521 deliveries. There are four contract post offices on the southern peninsula: Fritz Creek, Halibut Cove, Nanwalek and Port Graham. In addition, mail for Seldovia is funneled through the Homer Post Office.

“They do a good job, especially those rural routes,” said Sapp of her team.

Having worked for the postal service 10 years before coming to Homer, Sapp, who also spent 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, is not blind to the frustrations of post office patrons.

“Please be patient,” she said. “We’re trying.” 

On the customer side of the counter, services are available to reduce the need for going to the post office and minimizing the time spent in line. “Click and ship” is one of those offerings available online at usps.com. 

“All you have to have is eye contact (with a postal clerk) and you can drop your parcel. You don’t have to wait in line. That’s a very slick thing,” said Eleanor Sarren, Anchor Point postmaster, of a time-saving step when visiting any post office.

To ensure proper postage, scales are available at the post office and in the post office lobby. If using “click and ship,” remember to use the zip code of the post office where your package is being mailed.

“If you live in Homer, but you’re dropping your parcel off in Anchor Point, be sure to use the zip code where you’re dropping it off,” said Sarren.

Free flat-rate boxes for as much as 70 pounds also are available at the post office and make it even easier to ensure the right amount of postage.

Need stamps? No reason to go to the post office. They can be purchased online. Holiday stamps already are available, as well as other designs to match the message you want to send, including a Medal of Honor stamp with pictures of the 12 World War II recipients.

“I ordered a bunch of those,” said Bob Walsh, the Ninilchik postmaster, who stocked up on those at the post office, anticipating the stamp’s popularity beyond Veterans Day. 

Don’t like the stamps available? Make your own.

“People take pictures of themselves and put that on their cards. There’s a lot of fun stuff (online),” said Sarren.

Sarren also had package-packing tips for reducing delivery delays.

“Some people put their addresses on all different sides of the box, but if it gets turned around to a side where there’s no postage, it might get delayed a little bit,” she said, urging addresses be placed on the same side as postage.

Proper packing also can help with timely deliveries. 

“If you’re using your own boxes, make sure you use boxes that don’t have any hazardous material markings on then, no alcohol boxes and no Clorox boxes,” said Sarren of items that can’t be shipped through the mail. If those are the only boxes available, Sarren suggested wrapping them in brown paper “and some people go to great lengths to duct tape over it (the markings) really well.”

Packages going out of the country that require custom’s documentation can lengthen time spent at the post office, but can done before leaving the house.

“We have to put all that information in at the counter, so doing customs online is very, very helpful,” said Sarren. “It just reduces the wait line.”

Online services also are available for paying box rent and address changes.

Some general packaging tips from Sarren:

• Pack tight. Utilize the space in the box you’re shipping. Remember, there are a lot of boxes during the holidays and they get stacked up.

• For shipping jarred jellies and jarred salmon, bubble wrap it and then put it into a Ziploc bag, so if it breaks it won’t damage anything in the box.

• When shipping framed photos with glass, be sure to protect the glass and the corners of the frame.

• When tracking a package, you’ll need your receipt.

• When insuring your package, keep the receipt. Just in case.

“The main thing is if you come in and you’re all prepared, you can get out of here,” said Sarren. “We’re here to make it smooth for everybody.”

Homer Post Office

Carolyn Sapp, postmaster

235-6129

Hours: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday; noon-2 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday.

Anchor Point Post Office

Eleanor Sarren, postmaster

235-7666

Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m., closed for lunch 2:30-3:15 p.m., Monday through Friday; 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday

Holiday domestic mail deadlines

Standard post service: Dec. 14

First-class mail service: Dec. 20

Priority Mail service: Dec. 21

Priority Mail Express Service: Dec. 23

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