Faces of the Frontlines: Postal service continues to serve community despite pandemic
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The hustle and the bustle of the post office swirls around postal clerk Patti Frick as she looks after the needs of customers who walk through the doors of the U.S. Post Office in downtown Steamboat Springs.
“I enjoy talking to the public,” Frick said of her job. “I just think doing my job is important because people need to feel connected to the world. Sometimes, that’s getting a letter or getting a package. It just connects them to things outside of Steamboat and to the rest of the world.”
Frick, who has been a clerk for the U.S. Postal Service for two years, said the importance of the job has only increased with the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I think these guys are invaluable,” said Johnny Hill, Steamboat Springs acting postmaster. “The U.S. Postal Service is one of the oldest government institutions there is, and everything comes through here — a lot of money, a lot of merchandise — and without these guys being here every day, for like 8 (to) 12 hours, it would be like losing a wheel. You can’t get anywhere.”
Frick said in the early days, the post office delivered huge amounts of toilet paper and other essential items to those who ordered online. She said the volume of packages has decreased, but people continue to order the things they need.
Sadly, the post office has also become the place people flock to see if their unemployment benefits have come through or to see if they have gotten that stimulus check or tax refund from the government.
“I think we see everybody in town in normal times,” Frick said. “We see the tourists that want to do a postcard thing and send it off to someone they know, and we see all the locals that come in here to pick up their mail, a package, or need to send something.”
Like so many other places that used to draw crowds, the post office in Steamboat has seen changes to protect employees and customers since COVID-19.
Hill said the local post office is thankful for the help it has received from the community. He said people have brought by food and facemasks, and Steamboat Whisky Co. provided hand sanitizer at a time when he needed it, and there was none to be found in our area.
These days only two customers are allowed in the inner-lobby of the office where people can do business with clerks like Frick. A plastic screen has been added to further limit the chance clerks and customers will be exposed to the coronavirus. Clerks wear gloves and facemasks — something that everybody is encouraged to do when visiting the post office or any other public area.
Outside the doors in the main lobby, stickers direct customers where to stand to maintain the required six-foot social distancing rules implemented by the country.
The procedures help Frick and the other 11 clerks and 23 route drivers that work at the post office feel safe. Frick has continued to work 40 hours each week, making sure people have what they need in the middle of this pandemic.
“I realize that we are providing an important service,” Frick said. “I think a lot of people take us for granted, and sometimes, I felt like they didn’t appreciate us. I don’t think people think of this as being something vital until you can’t do it. But I think that has changed, and a lot of days we get people thanking us just for doing our jobs.”’
Frick said the adjustments make her feel safe, but they have also been difficult on those working the counter and customers who would visit when they came in to retrieve mail from their post office boxes and chat with clerks when picking up or dropping off packages.
“I think it has been hard on some people,” Frick said of social distancing. “The post office has always been a gathering place, a place where people come to see their friends and neighbors and stop to have a conversation.”
Frick said the impact of COVD-19 hasn’t stopped people from coming into the office, and it hasn’t reduced the importance of what she, and her fellow employees, are doing.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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Editor’s note: This story discusses the sensitive topics of domestic violence and abuse.