If you didn’t know any better, the volume of packages going through the Escalon Post Office right now would make you think it was December.
Local postal officials said they are seeing holiday-type volume, as people are staying home more and doing much more online shopping than taking trips to brick and mortar stores amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
This group of essential workers has remained on the job while many other businesses and agencies have closed around them. And in Escalon, the ultimate goal remains the same: provide service to the public.
Among those making sure customers get their mail is rural carrier Amelia Grajeda, who has been with Escalon for 16 years. The first eight, she was a substitute carrier and has served the last eight as a regular carrier.
“I like being outside when it’s not too hot,” the long-term postal worker shared of one of the things she likes about her job. “I also like talking to the customers.”
She handles Rural Route 4 which includes some areas in town as well as a couple of different outlying areas.
As far as the added load of packages on pretty much a daily basis, Grajeda said it does take a little more time to get items sorted and loaded up, but it’s nothing she can’t handle.
“Everybody is ordering online now, they don’t want to go outside or take their children (to stores) or expose themselves and I understand that,” she explained.
Substitute carrier Rose Ly, working her Saturday shift, also fills in during the week as needed. She said it takes about four-and-a-half hours to deliver her Saturday route once she gets the truck loaded up.
“We’ve adapted to all these packages,” she noted. “I don’t think about it too much.”
Her Rural Route 2 takes her out toward Oakdale and she, too, said she enjoys the work.
Overseeing the front of the post office on a recent Saturday was clerk Joe Berchtold, who has been a fixture in the Escalon office for years. He said it has been difficult in the past few months, as there have been cutbacks at the processing center in Sacramento that often leads to a delay in the mail getting on its way to Escalon.
For the most part, he said, customers have been understanding but he said it is frustrating somewhat for the workers because they truly want residents to get mail and packages in a timely manner.
“We sort of compare it to Christmas,” he added of the increased volume of packages coming through the local office.
At the processing center in Sacramento, he noted, they are also seeing huge increases and are trying to keep up with demand.
“We thank the customers for their patience and understanding,” Berchtold said.
He said some people, expecting “pre-pandemic delivery” are finding they have to add a few days’ wait time to those expectations.
A relative newcomer to Escalon, Juancarlos Aviles has been with the postal service for almost 19 years, the last year and a half in the local office.
“I was a carrier before and I came here as a clerk,” he said, handling some supervisory duties on a recent Saturday.
“The frustration regarding packages and parcels is that it’s hard for us to find a solution because it’s out of our hands,” Aviles noted.
Both Berchtold and Aviles said there is a little more stress now, based on the mail volume, but employees are doing their best and the staff is supportive of each other as they deal with the added workload.
Escalon Postmaster Ken Crandal said there have been modifications made in the office, with Plexiglas added at the counter and customers now required to wear face masks when coming in; postal workers also wearing them when dealing with the public inside the Coley Avenue facility.
Crandal said carriers don’t have to wear them while walking or driving their route unless they won’t be able to keep a social distance of six feet. Then, they do mask up.
He said both the regular crew and the relief workers have been dedicated to the community during the pandemic.
“There’s a tremendous sense of mission; they have it,” Crandal said. “The mail must get delivered.”