NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — Elisabeth DiBenedetto walks bundled up in a trademark thermal blue jacket and blue weather-protecting pants. A telltale stripe is on both, as well as on the satchel with mail that hangs along her side.
It’s cold — very cold — on a Tuesday morning as she walks her route in Narragansett. It’s a six-hour fast-paced walk, but not so fast during the holiday season that she misses greeting her regular customers.
After all, it’s prime time for the United States Postal Service during the Christmas season. DiBenedetto and all thousands of other door-to-door letter carriers are personal representatives of a large federal bureaucracy.
Even with the Internet and other delivery services, they still remain important and vital for many people. In 2019, the Postal Service’s shipping and package volume increased to 6.2 billion and total mail volume in 2019 was 142.6 billion.
With COVID restrictions encouraging mail and other forms of communication also with shopping from home, the volume for both is expected to increase during the last 10 months. The latest numbers are not available, authorities said.
“My job is to get them their packages and cards, as quickly as I can, and they are a connection for many to an outside world some are not seeing because of COVID and some don’t see at all because they are too infirmed,” DiBenedetto told The Independent while she walked her route, which cover parts of Narragansett and South Kingstown.
In this role of conduit to others, provider of home-shopped goods and general person of good cheer during the holiday, letter carriers’ days start very early, involve a lot of alone time, and end after the sun goes down.
So, what is an average day like for a letter carrier during the peak delivery season?
It’s busy. DiBenedetto’s, like so many others, begins before the sun appears. She gets up at 4 a.m. to get ready and then drives from her home in Coventry to South Kingstown for 6 a.m. deliveries of only packages.
“This helps cut down on the packages I need to carry,” she explained.
When she returns about 8 a.m. she pulls together and sorts the mail and packages she’ll deliver during her regular run. Afterwards, she spends about 30 minutes to get one day’s delivery for her route into the small delivery truck with its distinctive USPS markings, she said.
The Mail Load
“There’s lots and lots of cards. Around this time of the year, it’s mostly bad addresses with many. So, most of us already know who lives where, so we get letters to where they need to go,” DiBenedetto explained.
“Packages are huge right now, which is why we come in early to deliver them before we do our routes” and they come in all shapes and sizes, but have a weight limit of 75 pounds, she noted.
The biggest Christmas package in her four and a half years as a letter carrier? “Someone had ordered curtain rods and they were in a huge, long box that went from the front of my truck all the way to the back,” she said.
Another wrinkle that is the changing volume daily, “Volume changes every day. You never know what you’re going to walk into,” said this letter carrier who likes to laugh.
Being a Carrier During Christmas
“I love it, honestly. I’m outside all day long. I have limited interactions with people anyway. With COVID precautions these days, they are standing in their doorways anyway, just waving and smiling anyway, rather than most chatting,” she said.
She may talk a little, especially to the elderly looking for that only one real person they see daily, but cannot spend too because she has a schedule to keep.
“It’s mostly about how everyone is doing. All my customers are doing really great right now, so that is really good,” said DiBenedetto who keeps track of her 550 customers as well as the 25 to 30 who have a few words to say during the holiday season and almost any other time of the year.
“People tend to be more cheerful this time of year, more well-wishing, too,” she observed wry smile.
Most Heart and Wrenching Stories
“Last Christmas a customer was cleaning out a garage. She gave me all these different types of Christmas decorations because my son loves Christmas. It was just so sweet and thoughtful of her,” she said.
“I really loved them and he was very surprised by them. It was soooooooo nice,” she said in what became, as the conversation continued during a few blocks, this 32-year-old’s trademark wide grin.
But, last Christmas also brought a sad moment when one of her elderly customers died.
“He passed away right before Christmas,” she said, starting the story, then pausing to pull back a tear or two.
“It was just so sad because he lived alone, he had no family and all the neighbors were trying to figure out what to do with his dog. They asked me if I knew of any family, but he didn’t have any. That was awfully sad,” she said.
COVID and Holiday Deliveries
“What I see different is that no one is leaving. Everyone is staying put. I have a lot of snowbirds on my route. All of them decided to stick around and not leave,” DiBenedetto said, adding that most scurry to warmer Florida or Arizona by now.
She said she also thinks that COVID is causing more people to send cards this year. It accents a summer trend of more postcards with “mostly just people wishing each other to stay healthy and well,” she recalled from the notes on them.
Packages this year, she said, seem to indicate that more people are ordering from home because the volume has increased.
“The people who never ordered anything before, they are suddenly ordering things now. So, that’s a change in behavior,” said DiBenedetto.
There’s also a frequent bright spot in these holiday deliveries for her.
“Little kids look forward to packages coming. It’s really cute. When people have little kids at home, you see kids in the window waiving and they get very excited,” she said, adding that in a nursery school on her route and the kids also wave to her, too.
Bringing notes and packages of love, happiness and connection to others allows her to connect with others’ feeling and take in the holiday spirit, even if cold air accompanies it. The job brings a gift for her, too.
“It’s kind of like a freedom. I’m outside and I’m not working behind a desk and anything like that. I’m outside in the fresh air. I walk around all day. It’s nice and it’s very enjoyable and it’s kind of like my quiet time of the day,” she said