The first two quarters of 2020 ushered in unprecedented times. Most of us have never experienced anything like what was about to unfold for our nation and our world. Sheltering in place became synonymous with a disconnect to the outside world, friends, and family. Nothing was normal and so we found that any routines of normalcy were a breath of fresh air and a source of psychological comfort. Mail delivery suddenly became an important part of our day. More than read marketing mail, we found the appearance of our postal delivery person a welcoming sight, something we could rely on.
Beyond delivering bills, the US Postal Service became our lifeline. With businesses closed, we order items online, receive medications, and other vital items, we otherwise could not get, or do not want to shop for in person. The post office came through. Mail delivery went from something seen as a given and taken for granted, to something we would prize. Designated as essential workers, postal employees continue to keep the mail coming like clockwork and take pride in playing a part of our global challenge. Though maybe not as high profile as medical workers, postal employees have become the quiet heroes who motor through communities, tip open the mailbox of nearly every home, and ensure they are living up to their creed, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
Package volume increased to holiday season levels, yet first-class mail dropped by 25% putting a deeper financial strain on the USPS. We are fortunate that Congress approved a loan guaranteed under the CARE Act to keep this vital service running. And while the Postal Service has become a lightning rod for political discourse, for those of us working closely with these colleagues, we recognize their value on many levels. Historically, the post office has been the largest employer of African Americans, immigrants, rural migrants, and those pursuing higher education.
For the current price of a Forever Stamp™ at $.55, a one-ounce letter travels more than 2,000 miles from California to Alabama reminding a grandchild that his/her grandparents are thinking about him/her. No other service has the reach of the US Postal Service as postal carriers deliver to city skyscrapers and southern hollers alike. The USPS provides a service that binds our Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of its people.
During COVID-19, when life literally came to a standstill, the US Postal Service kept the mail moving. The presence of a postal vehicle gave many a sense that the government was still running and perhaps things would return to normal. While we may not had given too much thought to mail in the past, mail suddenly became a more important part of our day. Many anticipated, needed, and relied on the USPS to deliver their stimulus checks. Money that kept us and our economy moving forward. We became a little more focused on the content of our mailboxes – including marketing mail. And for those customers who still want paper bills and financial statements, those came too.
As we watched our loved ones become isolated in nursing homes, state hospitals or supported living centers, Pen Pal programs began to spring up allowing members of the larger community to send encouraging letters and cards to residents and patients. Volunteers shared positive messages, drawings, cards, or brief stories about on goings keeping those who could easily feel disconnected, connected. In Texas, volunteers have already sent more than 900 cards and letters, and many have received responses. In a time of electronic communications, let’s be honest, when we receive a card or handwritten note – there’s an emotional response. Afterall, it is fast becoming a unique experience. There is something magical about receiving something written by a friend or loved one. It is tangible evidence that someone took the time to remember you. It lets you know they were genuinely thinking about you. Many will hold on to these mementos long after the sender dies. During COVID-19, we need to send and receive tangible reminders that we are not alone and that we are truly in this together. Mail in its elegant simplicity serves this purpose.
As November approaches, there are many lingering questions and fears about the potential for COVID-19 to discourage voter turnout and participation. More and more states are moving to allow voting by mail. According to the Brookings Institute, the mail in ballot is the safest way to vote during this pandemic and the risk for voter fraud is low. Without the assistance of our postal service, our nation would not have this voting mechanism option. With its ubiquitous ability to reach Americans, once again, the US Postal Service enables our citizens to exercise their right to vote through the mail.
It is hard to imagine how the year 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic will be remembered as the world attempts to navigate beyond it. Like a freeze frame photo, many aspects of our personal and professional lives came to a grinding halt. What most of us took for granted was suddenly appreciated by its absence. Luckily, not everything came to a standstill. Medical professionals work around the clock, the food supply is still flowing, and shopping (albeit mostly on online) continues.
US Postal workers are among the many heroes who are keeping our country running. What we assume will always be delivered to our mailbox or left at our front door, could have been halted as well. Imagine if our USPS mail suddenly ceased. What if no carriers ventured out, no trucks were on routes, no processing centers sorting…no customers receiving checks, medicines, statements, cards, letters, and missing a lot of packages? Without the USPS, there would be a huge void and we would be hard pressed to fill it. The reach of the US Postal Service is enormous, and the ripple effect of its absence would be dearly felt.
So, what did a pandemic teach us about mail? Mail matters more than we recognize or appreciate.