WATFORD CITY There was a belated Christmas party for the Watford City community at their post office Thursday night.
Karen Fredrickson, marketing and outreach manager for the U.S. Postal Service, said the office scheduled an open house and invited people to stop by to see if any of more than 200 undeliverable parcels might belong to them.
Fredrickson explained that the post office became overwhelmed in December by the volume of packages and had been holding undeliverable mail rather than immediately returning it. The postal service decided to hold the open house to try to locate as many recipients as possible before making the returns.
Jesse Keogh of Minot uses the self-service kiosk to conduct his postal business at the Minot Post Office Wednesday. A local consumer advisory committee wants to conduct educational activities to increase use of the kiosk and reduce lines and wait times in the post office.
Nationwide, the postal service saw a 19 percent increase in parcels this past Christmas. In northwestern North Dakota, including Minot, parcels' numbers were up 25 percent, Fredrickson said.
Postal workers processed mail Saturday and Sunday and sent out trucks on Sunday, which doesn't typically happen, Fredrickson said. In some communities, postal workers even made Sunday deliveries.
The postal service brought in workers from other areas to help in the region with the mail volume and to give overwhelmed employees some time off.
"We used to hire part-time but we can't. You don't get applicants for part-time jobs," Fredrickson said.
Despite the challenges, Fredrickson said Christmas 2013 went much better than Christmas 2012.
Kim Steffan, city auditor in Ray, said postal troubles have declined but aren't completely resolved yet.
"We are still having some issues. We have been going through postal workers left and right," she said. "The Christmas season was tough. They had so many parcels. They were floor to ceiling. They had to have some extra people come in."
Julie Ramos Lagos, Tioga city auditor, said helpful changes this past year included additional staff and more postal boxes. The amount of lost or undeliverable mail has declined, she said.
"It does happen every once in a while, but it does seem to be diminishing," she said.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has called on the U.S. Government Accountability Office to conduct a study to investigate the discrepancy between the long delivery times reported by North Dakotans and reports from the postal service that service standards are mostly met.
Heitkamp is seeking stories from North Dakota postal customers that will be compiled and presented to the Postmaster General and GAO. People can find a short form for sharing stories at (www.heitkamp.senate.gov) or can post stories on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #FixMyMail.