Postmaster gets ready for busy Christmas season

December 09, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

Using conservative estimates, the U.S. Postal Service is expected to handle 20 billion letters, cards and packages between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.

That may sound like a formidable task, but Hagerstown Postmaster Richard Sheffield said he and his personnel are up to the challenge.

"Each year, the technology is better, and we will beef up staffing and have additional trucks to handle the mail," Sheffield said.


The 42-year-old Washington County native came to the Hagerstown Post Office on Franklin Street last February, taking over as postmaster in midsummer. For the previous seven years, Sheffield headed up the Middletown Post Office in Frederick County, Md.

A graduate of North Hagerstown High School, Sheffield was working a number of jobs and going to school part time when he heard about an opening with the postal service.

"It sounded different and I was looking for a career with a challenge," Sheffield said. His first assignment was as a part-time clerk in Hagerstown in 1985.

"I found that I really enjoyed the work, which was very rewarding," he said. "Plus, I am a people person and this suited me."

Sheffield moved steadily up through the ranks until coming back to Hagerstown, where it all started 181/2 years ago. He, his wife and three children live in Hagerstown.

A postmaster is a troubleshooter, Sheffield said. The job also is heavily weighted toward maintaining peak performance, which is no small task in a large operation such as Hagerstown's.

"All of these things are part of the process of improving our quality of service," Sheffield said.

Over the years, the increased use of e-mail and faxes has led to a decrease in first-class mail, Sheffield said.

During this transitional period, the postal service has recouped by offering other services, such as delivery confirmation, stamps online and online shipping.

But at Christmastime, e-mails and faxes can't take the place of holiday cards and letters, Sheffield said.

Holiday mailing tips

Sheffield said mailing early is the best way to ensure that everything will arrive by the holiday.

"Always use ZIP codes and make sure the addresses, both destination and return, are complete," he said.

In addition to using return-address stickers, Sheffield recommends putting the return address somewhere inside the package in case the outer label is lost.

With packages, use reinforced tape, not masking tape or string. Bubble wrap, plastic foam or crumpled newspapers can be used to pack fragile packages, Sheffield said. Packing supplies are available at the post office.

"When bringing packages to the post office, make sure they are closed and ready to mail so you can avoid delays," Sheffield said.

Still, during the holiday season, delays are inevitable.

Packages weighing more than one pound must be brought to the post office for mailing rather than deposited off-site because of aviation security, Sheffield said.

"Military deadlines are Dec. 11 for first class, priority mail, parcel or airlift mail," he said.

Sheffield said there are times when customers ask for services from the post office that can't be provided, often because of the reams of federal regulations pertaining to mail.

"But we listen and sometimes, things can be done," Sheffield said.

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