Mail volume surges as holidays near

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Doug Butler, 46, of Pinch keeps packages moving along at the Charleston Processing and Distribution Center on Thursday. The busiest mail day of the year is expected to come on Dec. 15, when the facility will process about 213,000 packages alone — and 2 percent to 3 percent of those he said will be Amazon.com purchases.
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Packages move along a conveyor belt to an Automated Parcel Bundle Sorter machine at the U.S. Postal Service’s Charleston Processing and Distribution Center on Thursday. Seven of these machines will sort more than 200,000 packages a day as Christmas nears.
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George Brinkley, 49, of St. Albans, makes sure mail is being sorted properlyl at the U.S. Postal Service’s Charleston Processing and Distribution Center. The facility has more than a quarter million square feet of space.
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A special Ruldolph postmark can only be found on mail that goes through the Charleston Processing and Distribution Center. Plant manager Dave Webster said Charleston is only one of four processing centers in the country that are printing special postmarks for Christmas.
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A tractor-trailer full of mail heads towards the Charleston Processing and Distribution Center in Charleston on Thursday.
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David Webster, plant manager of the Charleston Processing and Distribution Center, stands in front of a mail sorting machine in the quarter-million square foot facility, which is located off U.S. Route 119 at the Southridge Center.
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Hannah Goodall, 19, of Dunbar moves cards and letters into an automated letter sorting machine at the U.S. Postal Service’s Charleston Processing and Distribution Center on Thursday.
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A tray of mail speeds along rollers at the U.S. Postal Service’s Charleston Processing and Distribution Center on Thursday.
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Jeff Kelly, 51, of Sissonville keeps packages moving along at the U.S. Postal Service’s Charleston Processing and Distribution Center on Thursday.
CRAIG CUNNINGHAM/DAILY MAIL
As packages move along an Automated Parcel Bundle Sorter, they are pushed off a conveyor belt into the appropriate bin at the U.S. Postal Service’s Charleston Processing and Distribution Center on Thursday.

From Christmas cards to flat-screen TVs, holiday mail of all shapes and sizes is crisscrossing the world as the holidays near.

As the amount of mail reaches its projected peak next week, postal workers are putting in extra hours and officials are reminding customers about important upcoming deadlines.

The Daily Mail visited the Postal Service’s Charleston Processing and Distribution Center Thursday evening as workers and automated machines sorted packages and letters for delivery the next day. The quarter-million-square-foot facility, which is located behind Cabela’s at Southridge Center, is responsible for processing mail coming into and going out of 711 ZIP codes in parts of West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky. The building is staffed 24 hours a day.

Dave Webster, senior plant manager for the Charleston facility, said around 8.1 million pieces of mail will move through Charleston every day this week, and that number will increase every day. Webster said the busiest mail day of the year will come on Dec. 15, when the Charleston facility will process about 213,000 packages alone — and 2 to 3 percent of those are expected to be Amazon.com purchases.

“We’re quite busy at this time of year,” Webster said on Thursday. “We’re processing about 7 million total pieces of mail through here today for delivery tomorrow. Normally, we’re at about 5.2 million.”

Webster said 70 part-time employees have been hired at the Charleston plant to help with the holiday mail demand, and that the Charleston plant will use about 560 more work hours a day than normal to handle the extra workload.

Webster said there are 350 mail processing and distribution facilities around the country, and that the Charleston facility services the second-most ZIP codes of any facility in the country — many of which are rural areas with low population density. The Southridge Center location opened in October 1993 and processed about a million pieces of mail a day at the time, according to Daily Mail archives, but it has since expanded as budget woes have forced the consolidation of smaller processing and distribution centers across the country.

Postmaster’s office representative Sherry Cox said mail formerly processed at USPS facilities in Bluefield, Huntington, Clarksburg, Parkersburg and Ashland, Ky., is now processed in Charleston.

The Charleston facility’s processing capabilities have increased as automated mail sorting technology has improved. Webster said about 98 percent of mail is automatically sorted by machines by reading bar codes or using optical character recognition (OCR). The other 2 percent is sorted by hand, or worst case, returned to the sender.

Webster said it is important to print addresses legibly — including the ZIP code — to ensure mail gets to the intended destination on time.

“It’s really important that the address be legible so that the automated equipment picks it up the first time so we don’t have to redo it or manually screen it,” Webster said. “And, of course, be timely. Use Priority Mail and get it in timely.”

For the first time ever, Webster said any holiday mail that is sent from areas served by the Charleston mail processing plant leading up to Christmas will include a special Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer stamp cancellation. He said Charleston is one of four cities in the country printing the festive graphic on mailed letters — he said postal facilities in Denver, Dallas and Atlanta are printing Bumble, Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus images on letters.

“It was a very special honor for Charleston to be able to get that privilege this year,” Webster said.

The postal service recommends customers remember the following mailing deadlines for delivery before Christmas: Dec. 12 for international delivery, Dec. 15 for Standard Post, Dec. 20 for First-Class or Priority Mail and Dec. 23 for Priority Mail Express.

The earlier the better, Webster added, to ensure holiday mail arrives before Christmas.

Post offices nationwide will be open Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve but most will shorten their retail hours on these dates. Post offices will be closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Contact writer Marcus Constantino at 304-348-1796 or marcus.c@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/amtino.

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