By Ed Brock
Mailing Christmas cards and presents was the last thing on Jonesboro resident Pam Daniels' mind when she stopped by the post office on Thursday.
"I think on the 15th (of December) it hits me that I need to do something, I need to get something in the mail," Daniels said.
The Christmas mailing rush will begin in earnest after Thanksgiving, said U.S. Postal Service spokesman Michael Miles, but preparations are already under way. Extra personnel have been hired to help manage the expected 25 to 50 percent increase in mail volume.
Those positions will be "behind the scenes" jobs in processing the mail, Miles said, and the 450 positions have already been filled.
After Thanksgiving, postal locations will begin extended hours of operation, opening for a time on Sunday and staying open until 7 p.m., and they will post recommended mailing dates, Miles said.
"Those are several things we do to make it easier for our customers," Miles said.
Most of the recommended mailing deadlines are still weeks away, but some of the deadlines for the slowest and cheapest routes have passed. For example, Thursday was the deadline for sending a package by Parcel Post to military personnel overseas.
And people planning to send boxes of goodies to friends and family in other parts of the world have already missed the deadline for using Global Economy, or surface, mail, unless they are sending something to Canada. That deadline is Nov. 21.
There's still a chance in some cases that the items will arrive on time, Miles said, but it can no longer be guaranteed.
For military mailing, the next deadline is Nov. 28 for Space Available Mail, followed by Dec. 4 for Parcel Airlift Mail and then Dec. 11 for Priority Mail and First Class letters and cards.
Dec. 8 is the deadline for sending packages and letters by Global Airmail to Africa and Central and South America and Dec. 12 is the deadline for sending packages to Europe. People sending letters and packages to other locations around the world have until Dec. 15 to make sure they get there by Christmas.
For domestic mail, the standard for delivery is three days.
"We try to maintain those standards even during the Christmas season," Miles said.
Holding to that standard is easier if most people mail their items early rather than waiting until the last minute. However, Miles said the busiest mailing day is usually the Monday of the last full week before Christmas, and this year that Monday is Dec. 15.
During a normal day last year the postal service in Atlanta handled about two million letters, cards and packages a day. That number rose to three million items a day during the holiday season and on that busiest day last year they handled up to five million items, Miles said.
Mailing early is also cheaper. The price of sending a package by regular priority mail starts at $3.85 for a 1-pound package with a 5-pound package going for $5.85. In the last week before Christmas the postal service recommends using express mail, and that costs $13.65 for a ?-pound package and $27.30 for a 5-pound package.
There is still some hope even for last-minute mailers, Jonesboro Postmaster Dan Hall said. If a package that is obviously a present of some kind arrives on Christmas Day the skeleton-crew staff will make every effort to deliver it.
"It's delightful to come to the door and deliver something that a child's been waiting for," Hall said. "We all pitch in to do it."
Along with mailing early it's also a good idea to make sure the presents are ready for mailing, Hampton Postmaster Carol Miller said.
"If they're fragile, liquid or perishable make sure they're properly packaged to prevent damage," Miller said.
Along with the usual prohibitions against mailing anything flammable or corrosive, there are some special restrictions on mail bound for troops in Iraq.
Obscene articles (prints, paintings, cards, films, videotapes, etc), pork or pork by-products, any matter depicting nudity or partial nudity, sexual items and non-authorized political materials are prohibited. Religious material that is contrary to Islam is prohibited in bulk quantities but items for personal use are permissible.
Updated restrictions can be viewed at www.usps.com, Miles said.
Also, those sending packages to the soldiers should remember that desert temperatures average 100 degrees, the box opening should be sealed and the seams reinforced with 2-inch wide tape and a card describing the contents should be included.
Finally, Miles said that batteries should be packaged separately and not placed inside the item they are for because sometimes the item could accidentally activate inside the box.
"Needless to say that makes our folks a little nervous," Miles said.
One problem Miller encountered last year was the arrival of some packages, mainly fruit ordered from catalogs, that were addressed to rural post box numbers that haven't been used for nearly 10 years.
"We had to look in the phone book and try to track the recipients down," Miller said.
Residents should make sure all of their family members have an updated address to avoid that problem, Miller said.
Zip codes can be found at the www.usps.com Web site or by calling 1-877-ASK-USPS. A lack of a return address on a letter or package will not automatically exclude it from delivery, Miles said, but he recommends using one and also to put a return address inside a package in case something happens to the outside.
Postal sorting machines are designed to handle cards that are 6 1/8 inches by 11? inches and rectangular, Miles said. There is a surcharge of 12 cents per item that doesn't fit in those parameters. Also, Miles said people should avoid using red or green envelopes because the sorting machines have a difficult time reading the addresses on them.
The Holiday Music Makers stamps and the Christmas: Madonna & Child stamps are currently available.