SIOUX CITY | A random act of kindness offered a welcome but short-lived reprieve Tuesday for frustrated people waiting in line at the sole U.S. post office in Sioux City.
On Tuesday -- the day after the busiest annual shipping day for the U.S. Postal Service -- the mid-morning line included about 20 people back to the entrance doors. That's when an unidentified woman walked in and started passing out candy canes, saying she wanted to do a good deed for each day of December.
By 3 p.m. the line of people numbered 29. Some balanced four or more packages. Others waited for holiday-themed stamps.
Patrons said the closure of two city post offices four years ago continues to make the downtown office at 214 Jackson St. too congested, even apart from the holiday rush.
At holiday time, "I dread going there," said Carolyn Berke of North Sioux City. Berke, who works in downtown Sioux City, mailed both work items and holiday presents Tuesday.
Berke and another customer in line, Angie Sewalson of Sioux City, said their 25-minute wait was longer than they had expected.
The post offices at 1802 Morningside Ave. and 318 W. 28th St. both closed in 2011 as part of cost-saving measures after declining daily mail volumes. That has meant a funneling of people from all over the city to the downtown location.
"It is a lot longer than when Morningside was open," Berke said.
The Monday of the last full week before Christmas is traditionally the busiest day of the year for the Postal Service. People often do one last splurge of shopping over the weekend, then realize Monday it's time to ship off presents.
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More than 712 million pieces were expected to be processed Monday, up from the 658 million cards and packages in 2012. Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan in a release said the service plans year-round for the holiday onslaught.
Sioux City has a postmaster vacancy, and Marcus Schultze is the acting Officer In Charge. Schultze said he was mindful the final rush would result in trying times, so good customer service was key.
Schultze staffed four or five workers at the five stations Monday, but acknowledged that dropped to typically three Tuesday when a worker was out for the day.
"I tried to keep as many people out there as I could...If you are the one waiting in line, yes, you wish it was going faster," Schultze said.
He said the complexity of the customer order -- how many items, the destination and the services sought -- determined if each patron went through quickly or slowly. Berke said she noticed at times the line was held up by people not prepared on the details for shipping their items.
Berke said she understands that workers need to take breaks, but she was frustrated that only two and later three of the five stations had workers during the 25 minutes she was there Tuesday.
Belledawna Husk, of Sioux City, said no one likes to wait in line, but she didn't complain.
"It is that time of the year," Husk said.
The Postal Service recommends paying attention to the final key dates in order for items to arrive by Christmas Day: Dec. 19 for First Class Mail, Dec. 21 for Priority Mail and Dec. 23 for Priority Mail Express.
"We can still get it there on time," Schultze said.