Thursday, December 14, 2017

Cheyla Burkett: What kind of Christmas gift should you get for your mail carrier?

A holiday gift is an expression of gratitude to a person who has provided a loyal service for you throughout the year. 
 There are many overlooked community helpers that deserve some recognition during the bitter cold of this holiday season. 

 In many cases, your letter carrier is walking many miles every single day, up and down flights of stairs to your porch. They persevere through all kinds of weather, just to get your letters and packages to your door. During the holiday season, the amount of mail that passes through your carrier's hands is astronomical, especially considering the increase in package delivery.

My mother is a Rural Carrier Associate for the Unites States Postal Service. This means that she is a mail carrier, but rather than walking miles upon miles to deliver your mail, she drives miles and miles and MILES to deliver it instead. The colder weather is upon us, and I recently witnessed my mother's search for the perfect pair of gloves to keep her hands warm but her fingertips functional as she handled each individual piece of mail. She looked online and searched multiple stores before settling on the pair she did.

This had me thinking about all of the well-meaning individuals who gift gloves or scarves or hats to their mail carrier around this time each year. What may seem like a perfect and thoughtful gift may very well be just that--thoughtful, but not functional? I set out on a mission to determine what gifts your mail carrier would be thrilled to receive and which gifts would be appreciated, but overall a bust.

It is very important to note that each carrier that was interviewed for this article insisted that they did not need a tip or a gift and they wish that their 'clients' didn't feel obligated to give them anything at all, but of course any and all gifts are appreciated.

Gifts that may not be appropriate.

1. Gloves and hats. The city carriers emphasized that although the gesture is appreciated, they are required to wear very specific postal beanies and hats, and often never have a chance to wear the hats they are gifted. Your carrier has probably hand-picked the best and most functional pair of gloves they could find for their position, and unfortunately, any regular pair of gloves just doesn't make the cut.

2. Baked goods. Please keep in mind that not all carriers held this opinion, but the general consensus was that, unless they know the client very well, baked goods tend to get thrown away. Some carriers expressed an awareness that not everybody appreciates what they do and go so far as to actively dislike them, so trusting baked goods from unfamiliar people is concerning. They also brought up the point that just from the outside of the house, you can never be sure of the state of someone's kitchen. In fact, one carrier stated that they received cookies from a very large house in a wealthy neighborhood that contained cat hair.

Overall, although the time and effort you spend to put into a special plate of homemade cookies or banana bread is thoughtful, unless you have a great rapport with your carrier, save them for your coworkers or family members.

More appropriate holiday gifts for your carrier.

1. Chocolate. This gift is never a disappointment. It's a pick-me-up during the long days and a wonderful and welcome surprise. It is also a very common gift for mail carriers, and jokes have been made about having chocolate in their trucks from the the year before. Although they receive a ton of chocolate, they often bring a lot of it back to the post office to share with the clerks and supervisors, who rarely receive holiday gifts.

2. Sealed food, cookies, store-bought items. If you want to shake it up a bit, instead of loading up your carrier with chocolates, try store bought cookies, snacks, crackers, etc. Your carrier often goes long periods without a break and something to nibble on throughout the day helps to make it go by a little faster.

3. Homemade crafts and gifts from children. Several carriers indicated that receiving homemade gifts from the kids really makes their day. The adorable, illegible name scrawled in crayon on a tag attached to a simple candy cane is enough to put a smile on their face.

Kids aren't the only ones who can get crafty. If you have a creative bone and want to leave your mail carrier a cute gift that they won't forget, try fun little signs or t-shirts with witty comments ("First Class mail carrier" or "You don't scare me, I work at the Post Office.") Have fun and rest assured that these thoughtful gifts are always a joy.

4. Winter first aid kit. There's nothing wrong with throwing together a kit of winter essentials. What do I put in a winter essential kit if I can't include gloves?! Lip protection, throat lozenges, face cream, energy bars, cocoa packets, hand lotion, and hand warmers are a great start!

5. Cash and gift cards. This was by and far the most popular suggestion. The key here is gift cards to fast food establishments! While they are carrying many pounds of mail and packages all day long, it's difficult to also carry cash or bring a lunch along. Sometimes the ability to stop for a quick meal is a treasure.

6. Cards and Thank Yous. Although gifts are a delightful gesture, a simple thank you card is enough many times. Sometimes all they need is appreciation for performing well at a difficult job. Knowing that they are appreciated every day of the year is the greatest gift of all.

This is not an exhaustive list, by any means, and each mail carrier is different. When in doubt, you can always try to catch them when they stop by to ask them what is on their holiday list this year.

(The columnist, Cheyla Burkett, is a Missouri Southern State University student, an instructor at RSVPaint in Joplin, and social media coordinator for Stone's Throw Dinner Theatre in Carthage.)

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