On any given day, you can find United States Postal Clerk, Dave Hopkins, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the Fort Irwin Post Office, scanning package arrivals and distributing incoming parcels for delivery.
“It’s pretty surreal, I have soldiers coming in thanking me for my service, which is crazy because they’re the soldiers,” 20-year postal vet, Hopkins said. “They are the ones who truly make a difference, and to see that we’re making an impact in their lives is pretty cool.”
While shelter-in-place orders have been mandated and remote working has become the new normal over the past three months, postal workers continue to be on the front lines of essential services.
At the lone post office in Fort Irwin, package volume has increased 20 percent regionally and up to 50 percent. The small post office holds two clerks and three postal carriers who deliver to more than 5,000 soldiers and families each day. These essential workers are now working seven days a week and over 12-hour days to keep up with the increased demand.
When the novel coronavirus first hit, many Americans were on limited lock downs and resorted to ordering hard-to-find products that were being snatched up the fastest in stores.
“Friends pass along hot tips like, Walmart has toilet paper today,” Liz Hunter, a Fort Irwin spouse said.
The Hunters have a new baby and are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and federal guidelines, social distancing and keeping their baby at home as much as possible. Hunter said that she and her baby have not left the house since the end of February.
As reports of hoarding products flooded major news outlets and social media, major retailers closed, and essential stores were quick to implement limits on major items to help combat hoarding. One of these hardest to find of these items turned out to be toilet paper.
According to Statista, sales of toilet paper in the U.S. rose by an estimated 60 percent in March, compared to the same month last year– not because of usage but because of buyers stockpiling rolls.
The community of Fort Irwin has not been immune to people stockpiling or the shopping limits and restrictions being placed on hard to find items. Though some of these restrictions are being lifted weekly, the commissary still has limits on toilet paper, meat, bread and other hard-to-find items. When these items seemed to be impossible to find in person, people turned to ordering online.
“We are buying all non-perishable items online,” Hunter said. “My husband ventures to the store every ten days or so to get other things we need.”
While some news outlets are reporting the post office financial failures and requests for million-dollar bail outs amid the coronavirus pandemic, postal workers continue to supply remote communities with letters, college acceptances, medications, mortgage papers, divorce filings, ballots, care packages, protective equipment, hand sanitizer, stimulus checks, even ashes. Some say postal workers are putting their own health at risk for their job.
Hopkins has worked for the post office for more 20 years. He said the parcel increase during the pandemic reminds him of the annual volume increase at Christmas and income tax time. Hopkins noted that the truck the post office workers unloaded for recent deliveries had eight pallets of packages, where on a normal day, they may only receive three pallets to deliver.
Fort Irwin residents have reported they are taking time during the Stay at Home order to connect with family and pick up home projects. One social media user joked on the Fort Irwin Connection Facebook page that his garage is starting to look like Auto Zone because with all the car parts he has had delivered recently, he is taking the time to work on car projects.
When asked what the main items were that the post office saw an increase in as they delivered their daily packages, the entire postal crew agreed that they saw an increase in furniture, mainly desks, and gym equipment, mostly kettle bells.
“I have started online shopping more and more, since we can only go as far as Barstow to shop besides the Post Exchange and Commissary–Some items were needed, but some were bought out of sheer boredom and the fact that I couldn’t leave my house,” Reanne Fenn, an Army spouse, said.
“I’ve tried buying things such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer online, but stores such as Walmart are out of those items since everyone is buying them. I’ve even had trouble buying workout items such as weights because every place is sold out.”
Gyms across the nation have closed amid the coronavirus pandemic, leaving avid gym-goers no structured facility to exercise with weights. This has spurred the post office delivering a number of home gyms and free weights.
Postal carrier Yajaria Lopez said the entire Fort Irwin community has been extremely supportive during these unprecedented times. She said they’re extremely happy to see her and very friendly and appreciative.
“Some of the customers leave us water and snacks to show their appreciation,” Lopez said. “It’s a nice gesture since it’s so hot out right now, especially since we are working so hard.”
The Fort Irwin postal employees say that they are honored to be able to help and meet the high-demands and serve those who serve our nation, especially during a global pandemic.