With the arrival of the holiday season also comes the arrival of long lines at the post office, and this year will not be any different, said Marco Island Postmaster Irene O. Moss.
"The lines are just atrocious," Moss said. "Lines have been long since the first part of October."
She noted that the busiest time and longest lines at the post office are on Mondays.
"If they could forgo it until Tuesday or Wednesday, they would have less wait in line," she said.
The holiday bustle has already started for staff at the office, with Moss estimating that about 1,000 people had been processed on Monday.
To get packages and cards to domestic destinations in time for Christmas, Moss suggested that anything first-class should be mailed by Dec. 18. Priority mail should be received at the post office by Dec. 20. Express mail should be dropped off by Dec. 22.
Military mail destined for Iraq and Afghanistan should be received at the post office by Dec. 4. Military mail to other international destinations should be mailed by Dec. 10.
Global airmail parcel post packages to Europe, Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, Australia/New Zealand, Asia and the Middle East should be at the post office by Dec. 11. Any packages to Central and South America should be sent global airmail parcel post by Dec. 4.
There are measures postal employees are taking to ease the volume on customers and staff, such as hiring contractual employees throughout the holiday season and taking on two full-time mail carriers.
The closing of the contract station inside the Nichol's Hallmark store next to Publix in the Shops of Marco created a problem for mailing.
"We've been without them for about a year," Moss said. "It was a wonderful contract station. That's really impacted our lines here at the lobby. It's made for extremely long lines."
Another contract station was ready to open last year but Hurricane Wilma's arrival caused damages and loses to the store, according to Moss.
"So they backed out of it," she added. "It was about two weeks from opening. They never even opened up the retail store."
She is sending out a letter of solicitation to businesses in the south end of the island to see if any other businesses are interested in opening up a contract station.
In the meantime, Sunshine Booksellers can also handle the needs of some postal customers. The store, located at 677 South Collier Blvd. across from the former Radisson Resort Hotel, is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Moss offered a few tips that could make sending packages this holiday season a bit easier.
First, the post office has an Automated Postal Center that allows customers to process their own packages. The machine can accept items that are up to 17 inches in diameter and postal fees are charged to a debit or credit card. Also, having all necessary forms filled out by the time they reach the counter will move customers through the line much more quickly rather than if they arrive empty-handed.
"Make sure that they will have their package packaged, wrapped, addressed, (and) insured forms filled out," Moss said. "If they're at all concerned about their package, make sure they purchase insurance."
The United States Postal Service has estimated that this year it will process as many as 20 billion cards and packages. Customers can also log onto www.usps.com to schedule at home pick-up of packages.