LIHUE — It’s that time of year again.
The busiest shopping season of the year is underway, and millions of packages are already beginning to pass through the nation’s post offices, including here on Kauai.
And the countdown to get gifts in the mail so they arrive before Christmas has begun.
On Saturday, Lihue resident Bobbee Downs was one of the dozens of people who stood in line to mail out letters and packages at the Lihue Post office.
The holiday season, Downs admitted, caught her off guard this year.
“I usually don’t wait until the last minute to mail out packages, but I had no idea that right after Thanksgiving we have three and a half weeks until Christmas,” Downs said. “I think it’s the shortest window. I do online shopping a lot and emails every day tell you to buy now before it’ll arrive on such-and-such a day.”
It is a similar reminder that U.S. Postal Service officials are issuing nationwide in preparation for the federal agency’s busiest time of the year between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
During the holiday rush last year, Postal Service spokesman Duke Gonzales said about 3.7 million pieces of mail and 104,000 packages passed through the state’s main sorting facility in Honolulu each day.
“It’s a big challenge for us but we’re up to the challenge and we deploy all of our resources — human and technical resources — so that we can ensure a happy holiday for our customers,” Gonzales said.
In all, about 150 seasonal workers have been hired by the Postal Service and deployed throughout the state to accommodate the rush.
Gonzales said the Postal Service’s Honolulu district is currently seeing a noticeable increase in the volume of mail coming into the state — a factor that has been attributed, in part, to a rise in online purchases.
“The post offices haven’t really rationed it out tremendously yet as far as the outgoing volume — customers coming into our post offices and sending mail to the Mainland — but I think we’re certainly going to see that this weekend and next week,” Gonzales said. “I think we’ll start seeing offices get more and more crowded and build up to the usual holiday mad rush of mailers.”
The suggested mailing date for all first-class and priority mail to international and overseas military destinations is today, Gonzales said. The suggested date for all Mainland-bound mail is Dec. 18. Pieces being sent across Hawaii should be in the mail by Dec. 20, or Dec. 23 with express service.
Last-minute customers sending parcels to the Mainland can also used the Postal Service’s expedited Priority Express shipping service until Dec. 19.
But unlike previous years, there will be no extended retail hours of operation at any Hawaii post office.
To circumvent the rush, Gonzales said the Postal Service is encouraging customers to visit a contract post office or use their Click-N-Ship option.
Click-N-Ship allows customers to purchase postage on the Postal Service website, print it out on a sheet of paper, and secure it to a parcel that can be picked up by a mail carrier at a home or business.
Some residents aren’t taking any chances.
Kay Nakata, who mailed out a package Saturday to her daughter-in-law’s mother in Tokyo at the Lihue Post Office, said the holiday season is one of the few times of the year when she sends a package abroad.
“Luckily, this is the only thing that I have to mail,” Nakata said as she filled out a customs form. “I used to do one for my grandson while he was living in Florida, but he’s living with us now, so I don’t have to do that anymore.”
• Darin Moriki, county government reporter, can be reached at 245-0428 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @darinmoriki.