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The holiday season is a busy time for everyone, with shopping for presents, holiday parties and travel. It’s also the busiest time of the year for the U.S. Postal Service, and local post offices are ramped up and ready.

Rogue Valley post offices have hired extra personnel, scheduled overtime hours, and are open Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. until Christmas.

“Nationwide, the USPS hires 10,000 extra workers,” said Ashland Postmaster Tim Weaver. “It started getting busier three weeks ago, and it won’t let up until Christmas.”

Weaver, 38, has worked at the Ashland facility for two years — as the officer in charge for a year and as postmaster since March.

Ashland has 36 employees, 28 of whom are carriers.

Over the years, the trend has been for fewer letters and more parcels. However, the Postal Service experiences a spike in the number of cards and letters during the holidays.

The biggest change has been in the number of parcels handled. Weaver said 20 years ago the average carrier would deliver from five to 20 parcels a day. Now it’s 200 to 250 a day, in addition to an average of 2,000 letters and 500 flats or magazines.

“We deliver parcels on Sunday, too, year-round,” Weaver said. “Clerks sort 1,500 to 3,000 parcels for Sunday delivery, with another 6,000 or so for delivery on Monday.”

Many of the weekend parcels are orders fulfilled by internet giants like Amazon. Others are dropped off by competing shippers such as UPS and FedEx for “last mile” delivery by the local post office.

“We’ve been doing that for about 10 years,” Weaver said. “It’s more cost-effective for them to use the Postal Service for those last miles, especially in rural areas.”

The average number of stops for Ashland carriers is 900, ranging from 500 to 1,400. Of the 28 carriers, all but one drive vehicles. All have walking routes as part of their mix. During the holiday season, most will put in overtime, working an average 50 hours a week. Studded tires are the norm for this time of year, and all vehicles carry chains. Despite that, ice and snow can result in even longer days.

“Our inside employees also work extra hours this time of year,” Weaver said. “On Monday, for instance, we’ll often work until 7 or 8 p.m. when, typically, we’d be finished by 5.”

Weaver is quick to praise his employees.

“I have a lot of seasoned workers, many with 20-plus years of service,” he said. “They’re all very dedicated. We’re not perfect, but we strive for it.”

The national goal is to achieve 99.98% on-time delivery. Even Weaver and the facility supervisor have made deliveries when called upon.

“If we get an overnight express parcel on Christmas day, I’ll deliver it,” he promised.

Weaver offered some tips to avoid long lines: Saturday is the best day; avoid Monday and Friday, the busiest; and avoid the time between 10 and 11:30 a.m. when lines are the longest.

Deadlines for expected delivery by Christmas are just around the corner.

For the military:

Dec. 9 – Priority mail and first-class mail to military addresses in Iraq and Afghanistan

Dec. 11 – Priority mail and first-class mail to all other military addresses

Dec. 18 – USPS priority mail express to military addresses, except Iraq and Afghanistan

Domestic deadlines:

Dec. 14 – USPS retail ground shipping

Dec. 20 – First-class mail and packages

Dec. 21 – Priority mail

Dec. 23 – Priority mail express

To help ease the pain of going to the post office, customers can print postage-paid shipping labels, customs forms, and schedule a free package pickup right from their homes. Go online to usps.com/holiday for more information.

The Postal Service also offers a $1.50 discount on its largest priority mail flat-rate box when shipping to most military addresses.

Letters to Santa

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and the Postal Service can help you prove it when Santa replies to your child’s letter, complete with a North Pole postmark.

Here’s how it works. Have your child write a letter to Santa. Later, privately write a personalized response. Insert the response letter into a stamped envelope addressed to your child, adding the return address, “Santa, North Pole,” to the envelope. Place the completed envelope into a larger envelope, preferably a priority mail flat rate envelope and address it to: North Pole Postmark, Postmaster, 4141 Postmark Drive, Anchorage, AK 99530-9998. Mail it by Dec. 15 and the post office will take it from there.

“We’re doing our own thing, too, in Ashland and Medford,” Weaver said. “On their own time, employees take the time to personally answer letters to Santa that we get locally.” They get a couple dozen or so in Ashland and several hundred in Medford.

Weaver said he and his counterparts are customer-driven. They’re determined to make the process of mailing cards and gifts to friends and loved ones smooth and trouble-free.

Customers can help, too: Don’t wait until the last minute.

Jim Flint is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

Walter Haussner of Medford sends Christmas packages Friday at the Medford Post Office. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune