Former postal worker urges patience ahead of Christmas as mail carriers face historic demand due to virus

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Friday marked an important deadline for those hoping to send gifts to family by Christmas. It is the deadline set by the U.S. Postal Service to send first-class mail and be delivered by Dec. 25. The deadline to send priority mail is Saturday.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made an already challenging season for postal workers a historically difficult one, due to a record number of people mailing gifts, rather than traveling for the holidays, among other problems brought on by the virus.

The DW Designs is sort of a local gift-giving hub for adults, kids, and even toddlers.

“It’s our favorite time of year, but it’s also very exhausting,” co-owner Dawn Wilson said. Many count on their Tennessee-themed merchandise this time of year; however, in a year when the public is encouraged not to travel, many are also counting on USPS to deliver that merchandise to their families by Christmas.

“Just packages and people. Packages and people”: That’s how Vivian Shipe remembers the job this time of year. She retired after 35 years of service in 2018.

“You feel for them because they want to get their packages to their families before Christmas. But, there’s only so much you can do, so many planes you can put in the air, so many trucks on the road. When you combine that with what’s going on now, the packages they’re seeing now is history making,” Shipe added.

She says no challenge she saw in her career, including the ice storm in 1993, and threat of anthrax, compares to what carriers are facing during the pandemic.

Those challenges are also impacting Wilson and some of her customers.

“We had a package that was to be delivered here in Knoxville…it shipped way out, it’s still in another state. I don’t know why,” she said. Since the start of the pandemic, Wilson said they’ve also seen shipping delays impact their ability to make products. “All of our vendors are delayed; therefore, we’re delayed getting products to our customers.”

A statement from a USPS spokesperson says: “While every year the Postal Service carefully plans for peak holiday season, a surge in holiday volume compounded by a temporary employee shortage due to the COVID-19 spike, and capacity challenges with airlifts and trucking are leading to temporary delays. These challenges are being felt by shippers across the board.”

Shipe hopes the public will extend grace to those delivering mail at unprecedented levels, despite unprecedented obstacles.

“We’re not superheroes. We’re not superhuman. We do the best we can, with what we can, for as long as we can, every day,” she said.

Wilson hopes for the same grace. She also encourages anyone looking for last-minute gifts to consider shopping in-store, or online, but using the curbside pickup option.

“If you can support local this year, it’s definitely the year to do it. It’s always important, but this year, I think, it’s making a big impact.”

The deadline to send USPS priority mail express, for delivery by Christmas, is Dec. 23.

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