A million pieces of mail 

Processing Supervisor Charlie Lingo knows the secret to getting through the busiest part of the busiest day of the year at the Missoula Main Post Office. “I just keep everybody hopped up on sugar so they can go, go, go!” says Lingo, who’s handing out candy canes left and right to workers in the bustling Kent Street postal warehouse. Brimming bins of packages roll by on wheels while employees sort through endless stacks of parcels needing to go out. Other workers eye the conveyer belts overflowing with letters bound for every corner of the world.

On Dec. 17, the busiest mail day of the year, the Missoula Main Post Office will cancel 1,030,000 pieces of mail before the day’s out, nearly triple the amount that’s processed on an average day, says Customer Relations Coordinator Debi Blankenship.

Long lines of customers curl through the storefront of the post office, bringing with them a steady supply of mail, but trucks arriving by the minute from branch offices in nearby towns like Hamilton and Polson also carry bag upon bag of Christmas parcels and correspondence for processing. By midnight, says Missoula Postmaster Linda Varnard, all of it will be sorted, stamped, and sent on its way, some on trucks bound for Great Falls to catch a plane, others into
the boxes of local carriers. In the
meantime, the vast warehouse bustles like a beehive, and on this day alone workers will put in more than 700 man hours.

“Because it’s the holiday season, we just keep pushing because everyone knows how important it is to get packages and letters out,” says Blankenship.

Missoula’s office appears to be particularly good at getting out the mail, and has ranked first in the nation each of the last three years for overnight delivery within the region, says Varnard. But tonight there’s no time for resting
on past laurels. Minute by minute
the Christmas mail stacks higher, and Lingo’s candy cane supply steadily dwindles.

“Tonight is nothing but controlled chaos,” he says with a grin.
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