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Christmas packages flood post office

| December 19, 2006 11:00 PM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

A bad back and the flu put Charlene Ledbetter behind on her holiday schedule.

That's why Ledbetter joined thousands at post offices across the nation Monday - the biggest mail day of the year - with Christmas packages for her sons, sister and in-laws.

"I usually do it earlier," Ledbetter said while waiting in line at the Libby post office. "I also had to bake. I always send my boys cookies and fudge."

Post offices on Monday handled three to four times the mail volume and served two to three times the customers they handle on a regular day.

Montana post offices were expected to postmark more than one million holiday cards and letters and handle several hundred thousand holiday packages. Post offices nationwide were expected to handle nearly a billion pieces of mail that day.

It was no different in Libby.

"On a typical day we have one window clerk and a backup," said Gary Lisle, assistant supervisor for the post office here.

Monday they had three window clerks.

"We also had a pretty busy day Saturday," Lisle said. "We had three clerks at the window most of the day with maybe eight to 10 people in line at a time."

The post office also extended its normal 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Saturday hours to 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., he said.

"We shipped four or five bulk containers," Lisle said. "That's a lot of packages."

Monday, he expected the number of letters to triple.

Troy postmaster Kirby Kulbeck expected a busy Monday, despite not being as busy as normal in recent days.

"Everyone in Troy mailed early - in November and the first of December," Kulbeck said. "We'll still get a pretty good load of people coming in today."

And back in Libby, Sharon Olson had more than holiday greetings to mail on Monday. She had nine boxes to send to her children and grandchildren in Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon and Columbus, Mont.

"I procrastinated," Olson said. "I kept saying I'd get to it later."

She hopes the gifts will arrive by Christmas on Monday, Dec. 25.

"If they don't, it's my fault," Olson said. "My shopping was done. It just needed wrapped."

Monday wasn't Janella Gromley's first trip to the post office with holiday packages for her three granddaughters in Boise, Idaho.

"Every time I came here, the line was too long so I put it off," Gromley said. "I have time today so it's now or never."

Tanya Gehrke also was on line at the post office in Libby, but without packages.

"We mailed early, last week to Las Vegas," said Gehrke, the deputy treasurer and billing clerk for the city of Libby.

She was waiting in line to pick up a package.

Postal service deadlines for delivery by Christmas for out-of-state packages is Wednesday, Dec. 20, and in-state by Thursday, Dec. 21. After these dates, use Express Mail to major metro cities only.