Sorting the mail

Christy Reed, a clerk at the Huntingdon post office, sorted through a bin of mail to assure it is delivered correctly. She is only one of many postal workers who will be working tirelessly leading into the holiday season, as shipping and mail deadlines approach.

As the holidays loom, United States Postal Service (USPS) is expecting to deliver 25 million pieces of mail throughout the Western Pennsylvania District. The truncated holiday season has only increased stress for the USPS and residents alike as shipping dates approach.

“With the truncated holiday season, people were left with only three and one-half weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas to mail out things. It’s a very challenging time for us,” said Tad Kelley, USPS Western Pennsylvania District communications program specialist. “We’ve even started to deliver more mail Sundays to keep up with the volume.”

Despite expanded Sunday deliveries, however, Kelley believes those seeking shipment must consider the quickly approaching holiday shipping dates.

One of these shipping dates has already passed.

“December 11 was the last day for military mail to be shipped to arrive by Christmas,” Kelley said. “That would include anything being mailed to an APO or FPO address.”

Other dates are soon to follow. Retail ground packages, a shipping option often reserved for less-than-urgent and oversized packages, must be mailed by tomorrow, Saturday, Dec. 14, to arrive by Christmas.

The cost of this shipping option begins at $7.35.

First class comes next.

“First class mail—things like cards and letters—must be mailed by Friday, Dec. 20, to arrive on time,” Kelley said. clarifies that first class mail includes “standard-size, single-piece envelopes weighing up to 3.5 ounces, and large envelopes and small packages weighing up to 13 ounces with delivery in three business days or less.”

The cost for first class shipping begins at $0.55.

Priority Mail, which ships anywhere in the country within one to three days, must be shipped by Saturday, Dec. 21. Priority Mail includes $50 insurance on the package and a free package pick-up service from a home or business.

The cost for Priority Mail shipping begins at $7.35.

Priority Mail Express, the fastest shipping method offered by USPS, can be sent as late as Monday, Dec. 23. It provides next-day delivery, $100 insurance on the package and the free package pick-up service. It is, however, the most expensive shipping option, beginning at $25.50.

Kelley also offered advice on packaging goods for shipment, beginning with box preparations.

“To properly package something, you need a strong, sturdy box to place the contents in,” Kelley said. “Make sure it’s not a box that has been reused several times. If the box previously contained chemicals of any kind, obliterate any information on the outside pertaining to that.”

Return and mailing addresses should be displayed clearly on the exterior of the package.

Items within the package must be prepared for transit, as well.

“Make sure all items are packed tightly in the box and surrounded by a protective material, something like bubble wrap or packing peanuts,” Kelley said. “If you’re sending a picture frame, remove the glass sheet and pack it separately. If you’re sending a toy, make sure to remove the batteries if it has them. You don’t want any buzzing from inside the package to delay it.”

All packages should be closed with pressure-sensitive tape, such as the clear and wide packing tape available at most post offices.

Kelley also reminds the public that holiday Forever Stamps are currently available.

“We have stamps commemorating a wide range of religious beliefs and holiday themes,” Kelley said. “They are all Forever Stamps, meaning they will always cover first-class postage rate no matter how they change.”

Kelley provided additional advice to help keep packages and package carriers safe, as well.

“Now more than ever, you should never leave mail unattended,” Kelley said. “If you’re expecting a package, have a neighbor or relative hold it until you return home. Letter carriers will also be out early in the morning (and at night). Make sure to leave porch lights on so they can easily navigate to your door and identify the correct home they should be delivering to.”

Snow may also pose a potential threat.

“It’s expected to snow throughout the U.S. this holiday season,” Kelley said. “People should clear their walkways to help assure carriers safety. For driving routes, people should clear a path where our employees can safely drive up and away from mailboxes.”

Joshua can be reached at


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