Freeland residents vexed by postal delays

Easter packages, newspaper issues and medications are just some of the items that have taken longer than usual to reach residents.

For years, longtime Holmes Harbor resident Joyce Mathenia has looked forward to getting her mail, which she predictably received every day except Sunday.

But then the mail started coming later and later, sometimes after 7:30 at night. She was worried about going out after dark and purchased a locked mailbox to keep her mail safe overnight.

In recent months, mail delivery has been reduced to every other day and now it’s even more sporadic, she said. Last week Mathenia didn’t receive mail for four days. This Thursday, she received an Easter package that looked like it was dragged through the mud and two editions of the South Whidbey Record, which should have been delivered the Saturday and Wednesday prior.

“It just isn’t right,” she said. “If I were able, I would be at the post office carrying a sign.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service said the Freeland Post Office is short at least one carrier and the others are covering this route while doing their own routes.

“Unfortunately, that has resulted in a day or two delay in mail delivery in some areas,” the spokesperson said in an email. “The postmaster regrets the situation and asks for patience from Freeland customers. He is hopeful he can fill the vacancy soon with a transfer or an outside hire.”

Staff shortages and delayed mail are a problem with echoes across the nation, especially in rural areas. The pandemic exacerbated the problem, with a record increase in packages and staff being out sick or leaving the workforce entirely.

The starting wage for an assistant city mail carrier is about $38,000 a year, while rural carriers can make significantly less, partly because their pay is based on the expected time a route should take — not the actual time, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Several post office customers said the problem in the Freeland area has been worse than “a day or two delay.”

Freeland resident Gail Klebold said she relies on the post office to received blood pressure medication and insulin. The delay in mail has caused a couple of close calls. In one instance, an employee at the Freeland Post Office agreed to meet her after hours to find her package of medication. But delays happened again, even after she asked for expedited delivery from her insurance company.

“I was down to three days of insulin,” she said. “I only had one blood pressure pill left.”

Paula Peters at Windermere in Freeland said racks of unsupervised packages are lined up outside the facility.

“We’re not talking about birthday presents and fun packages from Amazon. We’re talking about really serious things,” she said, pointing out that people rely on the mail for vital deliveries.

Peters said it’s understandable that people are frustrated, but she hopes they don’t blame the harried post office employees or treat them badly. She said there must be ways to help with the staffing problems, from temp workers to better pay.