As the pandemic continues, so does the drive to shop online instead of in store, to send mail instead of visiting friends in person and to ship gifts instead of traveling with them to a family member's home.
In many cases, residents expect their local postal service to help get the job done, which is why it can be incredibly frustrating to still be waiting in late January for a card that was due to arrive before Christmas, or for bills, packages and other items to be in delivery limbo with little to no explanation why.
Complaints of poor service have seemed to increase around the Athens area lately, as more and more residents take to social media to air their grievances, only to find dozens of neighbors with similar experiences.
"I have only gotten mail one day this week," one resident posted on Nextdoor, a hyperlocal social networking app. He told The News Courier that he uses the U.S. Postal Service's Informed Delivery feature to preview what mail he's supposed to get each day.
"Up until the last three or four weeks, it has been very accurate as to the mail pieces being delivered," the resident, who asked his name not be published, said. In the last month, "we have had a package pushed back for over a week, and it still has not been delivered. We constantly receive other people's mail in the neighborhood."
He said he understands COVID-19 and having to deliver Amazon packages on top of regular USPS mail is taking its toll, "but that should not be the consumer's problem." When he called the Athens Post Office to discuss the situation, he said employees voiced apologies but otherwise didn't seem to care.
Erin Williamson, who lives in northeast Athens, said she doesn't like calling anyone to complain, but after multiple issues with packages being mishandled, she felt she had no other option. From boxes rubber-banded to her mailbox in plain view to those left out in the open, including a laptop left in the rain and another package left in the middle of her driveway, "it's just been ridiculous," she said.
"And I am often having to go to my neighbor's house because they deliver my package to the wrong address," she said.
Debra J. Fetterly, USPS spokesperson for the Alabama district, said postal workers nationwide recently had to deal with an unprecedented volume of holiday mail and packages, which has contributed to problems faced throughout 2020, including struggling to find temporary staff to fill in the gaps when employees are out due to quarantine. Fetterly offered apologies on behalf of the USPS to anyone in the Athens community who has been inconvenienced as a result.
"Local management is aware of the concerns of some Athens customers and is committed to making improvements in service, including providing timely, accurate mail delivery and consistent operating hours," Fetterly said.
As for customers feeling brushed off or disrespected by employees at the Athens Post Office, Fetterly said USPS "expects all of our employees to treat each other, our customers and the public with dignity and respect. We apologize if any Athens customers were treated disrespectfully."
She said management is reviewing reports filed by customers and "will take action, as warranted, to ensure employees maintain our customer service standards."
Fetterly reminded customers that they can call the USPS Customer Care Center at 1-800-ASK-USPS or visit usps.com/help in addition to contacting their local Post Office.