Duke’s mailroom has been inundated with packages, resulting in overworked staff and frustrated students.
Sophomore Sabrina Sebastian-San Miguel said that all of her packages have been “very delayed” this year.
“I get my packages a week later, which is sometimes frustrating because I have type 1 diabetes, so I’ll order stuff for that,” Sebastian-San Miguel said. “I don’t have a lot of confidence in the mailroom at the moment.”
However, she said she understands that it is hard because of the overflow of packages.
Edward de la Garza, postmaster and director of Duke Campus Mail Services, explained that he and his team are anything but inefficient, and that they are working diligently to solve the mailroom’s complications.
“I think it’s important that people understand that we don’t just lick stamps all day,” de la Garza said.
Following the closure of residence halls to private package carrier deliveries, the mailroom has increased its incoming package load by 34% since the start of the year. This averages to over 1,300 incoming packages a day.
Over the months of August, September and October last year, de la Garza reported about 40,000 packages delivered to the mailroom. By Sept. 9 of this year, his staff had already received over 70,000.
“We had to make all the changes that we could to set up the operation to make it more efficient,” de la Garza said.
Not only has de la Garza scheduled more hours, but he has also refurbished the mailroom to increase its efficiency, including more shelves and mats and new lighting as well as increasing the student staff from four to eight employees.
“It's pretty remarkable what my staff has done to keep up with this stuff. We're working a lot of overtime. We are working all weekends,” de la Garza said.
Sophomore Jondre Macaraeg similarly described the current mailroom situation as “very inconvenient,” though he acknowledged the difficult adjustment for mailroom staff.
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“I think that especially for people who order necessities through mail, this is very frustrating for them. They now have to wait to get the essentials that they need,” Macaraeg wrote, as in the case for Sebastian-San Miguel’s diabetes medication.
“We have to be getting to all these different classes throughout the day, all over campus, and finding time to wait in line at the mailroom is really inconvenient,” Macaraeg wrote. “It’s just more stress for us to have to worry about making time specifically for picking up mail/packages and also thinking about whether our package actually arrived or if it got lost.”
Amazon smart lockers and other improvements
The issues faced by the mail staff this year have only inspired de la Garza. While having over 40 years of experience, he is still determined to keep reinventing for the future of Duke’s mail services.
“I meet with my staff and say, 'okay, what can we do to make this better for next semester?'” de la Garza said.
De la Garza is currently working with Amazon to divert packages into their smart lockers, with plans for lockers to be installed on both East and West Campuses in the near future.
“A lot of my fellow constituents that I work with from Vanderbilt, Oklahoma University, City of Charleston and Kennesaw State already have Amazon lockers,” de la Garza said.
The mailroom recently opened its first “touchless” smart locker in the Bryan Center. Now, students should expect a new designation code, 777, in email reminders from the mailroom, specifying that the package is being kept in the new locker. De la Garza hopes to add more lockers in the future for increased efficiency.
Mail services have also installed several mail information stations within campus buildings, so departmental packages can be delivered directly rather than through the mailroom.
“We just did our 11th installation at North Pavilion,” de la Garza said. “We took a closet, and we converted it into a mail info center.”
Despite de la Garza’s excitement for his future operations, there is no denying that the pandemic has put an intense strain on the mailroom’s current state.
“It can be challenging at times. The pandemic has set us back, but we're certainly working hard to keep things rolling,” de la Garza said. “It'll slow down, probably, but not until October.”
Without the reinstitution of dormitory deliveries, it seems that Duke’s mail issues are here to stay for the foreseeable future.
“If the students can just be patient with us, we're doing what we can,” de la Garza said.
Ayra Charania and Kathryn Thomas contributed reporting.