February 12, 2014 - A few passes with a snow shovel or blower in front of the old mailbox is all it will take for many local residents to resume receiving their letters, bills and newspapers.
Cary Smith, customer service supervisor at U.S. Post Office's Oxford branch, demonstrates how mail carriers can't reach curbside boxes when there's snow piled in front of them. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
That was the essence of Cary Smith's message to the Oxford area's postal customers.
For more than a month, Smith, who works as the customer service supervisor at the U.S. Post Office's Oxford branch, has been receiving approximately 20 to 24 complaints per day from customers upset about not receiving their mail.
"I've had a couple customers call and just get downright nasty on the phone," he said. "Nobody really understands the big picture; they just want their mail. They expect it to drop from the sky."
In a nutshell, there are customers out there who have snow piled up in front of their rural or curbside mailboxes. These piles were created by plow trucks.
Because of this, carriers can no longer simply drive up to these boxes to deposit and collect mail. They can't reach them and they don't want to run the risk of getting their vehicles stuck while attempting to get closer.
As a result, carriers are not delivering to these houses, forcing customers to come to the post office to collect their mail.
"It's just virtually impossible to deliver the mail when you've got three feet of snow in front of the box and people just don't understand," Smith said. "They blame it on everything but themselves as to why they're not getting their mail."
"I've been dealing with the public about these issues for a long time," added Smith, who's worked for the post office for 20 years. "But this is, by far, the worst winter in quite some time."
That's why the post office is seeking customer cooperation. The public is being asked to clear the snow from the approach to and exit from their rural or curbside mailbox on both sides so as to allow carriers to drive ahead rather than back up after delivery.
As much as this whole situation angers customers, Smith explained it's no picnic for the post office, either.
"We want to deliver your mail," he said. "It's more of a pain to bring it back, take it out another day, and then, it's still not cleared (in front of the mailbox), so we start warehousing mail here (at the Oxford branch)."
With more people picking up their mail at the branch office, the line in the lobby gets longer, then customers complain about the wait.
"It kind of cascades," Smith said.
So, why can't carriers simply get out of their vehicles and walk up to the mailbox?
Smith said there are two main reasons.
The first is safety. Having carriers exit their vehicles to access mailboxes under these conditions increases the chance of them injuring themselves through a slip and fall accident.
"You're virtually climbing a mountain (of snow and ice) to get to half of these boxes," Smith said. "Don't get me wrong, we want to deliver the mail, but at the same time, we're not going to climb over mountains and through snow to deliver your mail because you're reluctant to clean out (a path to) your mailbox."
Time is the other reason.
"They can't be getting out (of their vehicles) 500 times and climbing through snow to deliver the mail or they'd be out there until midnight," Smith said. "These routes are based on good conditions, dry conditions, not conditions like this.
"The carriers are expected to deliver their routes in a timely manner. That's how they're paid. If they're out there climbing out of their truck a couple hundred times, just think of the consequences and the cost."
Driving the postal truck through the piled-up snow is no answer, either, because they're "light as hell" and "get stuck very easily," according to Smith.
Every time a postal vehicle gets stuck, he noted it costs the agency $95 to have it pulled out, plus all the time that's wasted while the carrier waits for the tow truck to arrive.
To those customers who call the post office with questions or complaints about the lack of delivery due to the snow, Smith asks them "to be a little bit more compassionate and understanding of what the postal service is trying to do and understand that the postman would rather deliver the mail, then bring the mail back."
"But they're not going to jeopardize their own safety and (risk) the potential of getting their vehicle stuck because that's counterproductive," he said.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.