Christmas may be the happiest time of the year, but it also is the busiest – which for postal carriers may mean working on Sundays, navigating icy walkways and delivering packages weighing up to 70 pounds.
“This is really the show, the big time of year,” said Karen Mazurkiewicz, a local spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service. “With people ordering more and more online we see a steady stream of packages year round. It’s just Americans’ shopping patterns have changed. On a normal day your average carrier may deliver 50 packages. Today it will be between 250 and 300, and they may need to make two rounds.”
Renee Gronowski is a 20-year veteran carrier whose delivery route is in Amherst. On Monday – the busiest delivery day of the year – Gronowski was scheduled to be off, but instead she worked her route out of the North Bailey Avenue post office walking 10 to 13 miles.
"The holiday season is not really overjoyous for any mail carrier," she said. "It’s the worst working conditions, really dangerous. Honestly, people could do better. They may shovel their driveways but not sidewalks."
Fifty-five carriers report to the North Bailey facility that serves zip codes 14226 and 14228 in Amherst, said Mazurkiewicz.
“In our district we will deliver six million packages from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve,” said Mazurkiewicz. The western district includes Buffalo, Rochester, Jamestown and Elmira. “Nationally, we’ll deliver 750 million packages, a 12 percent increase from last year.”
Gronowski of Lancaster attributed the increase in part to the postal service contract with Amazon, which includes delivering packages on Sundays.
"I've worked six Sundays just delivering Amazon.com packages," she said. "Emotions are high because of the weather. My customers know me, and we get along well but if they don't shovel their sidewalks there is a high chance they won't get their mail."
While numbers of packages being delivered by postal carriers are experiencing an upswing, the practice of mailing Christmas cards has become less popular.
“Since 2008, the slight decline is a steady one,” said Mazurkiewicz. “Cards mailed first class have dropped five percent each year. It’s really the packages that are the priority of recent holidays."
“In Buffalo, we might process 400,000 letters and cards on a normal Monday,” she said.
At this holiday time when the postal service is churning out deliveries in rapid fashion, Gronowski urged people to be considerate of their carrier, whose job is much more demanding than most people realize.
"Sometimes your mental state must be stronger than your physical state," Gronowski said. "It's really overwhelming for a lot of the new carriers coming in."