Slowing postal: Free Union and the place we won't let go
The United States Postal Service– who needs it? Our whole society has gone electronic. With the availability of email, iPads, and smart phones, you need paper mail delivery about as much as you need a hi-fi for your vinyl records.
Well, now. If the above statements characterize your opinion, consider this scenario: The USPS has plans to close your post office. Not somebody else’s post office, but your very own. The one that’s so convenient, where you buy your stamps, mail wedding invitations, and send care packages to your college students– where you stop to chat with your neighbors and check out the bulletin board to see what’s for sale and whose dog is lost. And maybe you have an eBay business so you rent a post office box where customers can safely send you their checks.
Yes, you know that the USPS is said to be hemorrhaging money, but surely they can take aim at the many layers of their bloated bureaucracy and start the hunt for wasted money at the top. At the very least, they should pick on someone else’s post office, not yours.
If you happen to live in Free Union, this threat is not just theoretical. During the last week of June, our postmaster received written notice that the Free Union Post Office was being considered for DUO (“Delivery Unit Optimization”– fedspeak for “downsizing”).
Within a week, that consideration firmed up to “definite” status, and preparations began for the transfer of our two mail carriers and our sorting operation to the Earlysville Post Office– which is over eight miles away– by September 17th.
The given reason was “cost saving,” but just how all that to-ing and fro-ing between Earlysville and Free Union would save a nickel is a mystery to those of us who have taken an interest in this process. And there are a whole lot of us who are passionate about keeping our little post office intact.
Here’s why we care so much about what might appear to be an innocuous restructuring of duties and sorting: According to the USPS website, removing the carriers and sorting is the first step in dismantling a post office.
Step Two happens in a year or so (or whenever the lease is up) in the form of a resounding slap of the communal USPS forehead, as they suddenly declare that the building is too big for a mere retail outlet that sells stamps and accepts mail but no longer has its own carriers and sorting operation.
Who knew? Time to move out of that building! If there’s a store nearby, they might contract with the owner to sell stamps and accept mail. In time, the diminished retail operation may well disappear, and the destruction will be complete.
As you might expect, this situation is not unique to Free Union. In June, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe declared that nearly half of the roughly 32,000 postal facilities in our country will be closed in the next six or seven years. Half!
Call it the NIMBY effect if you like, but I call it community spirit. We collected over 300 signatures on our petition, which ain’t bad when you consider there are 635 mail boxes in all of Free Union.
Free Unionites have been writing letters to our federal representatives and to USPS honchos to advocate for the integrity of our post office. (One fact we make sure to include in our letters is that our post office actually makes a profit.)
Staffers in the offices of Senators Webb and Warner, and Congressman Hurt, lobbied the USPS on our behalf. Homemade signs dotted the roads of our community, reminding residents to attend a meeting in the basement of the Free Union Baptist Church, when officials from the USPS in Richmond were to go toe-to-toe with riled-up citizens.
At a recent organizational meeting, someone suggested forming a “Pitchforks and Torches” committee. It’s a joke, of course, but a telling one. Our post office is the heart of our sweet hamlet. We don’t want to go hurtling down that slippery slope and lose it.
I am happy to report that our efforts paid off: The USPS downsizing coordinator in Richmond just announced that Free Union has been crossed off the list of targeted post offices. That’s good news for us, but the downsizing will continue elsewhere.
The volume of first class mail may be shrinking, but we still need, and want, our post offices.
When my mother passed away this spring, the sympathy cards flowed into my mailbox and provided great comfort. Then, there were certified copies of the death certificate to be mailed, thank you cards to those who sent flowers, and packages sent to family with mementos from Mum’s possessions: a necklace, a scarf, a book. And all of it went through the USPS.
In case you’re wondering whether your post office will be among those closed in the next six or seven years, consider this: Your chances are fifty-fifty.
Then again, maybe you don’t care. Maybe you think that 21st century media will totally supplant the older way of doing things. If so, consider the passion that an audiophile brings to his collection of vinyl albums: You can try to take away his hi-fi, but there will be a battle.
Do we need to mention that frequent essayist and radio commentator Janis Jaquith lives in Free Union?Read more on: Free Union