Mail still holds allure for Iowa college students

SIOUX CITY – The U.S. Postal Service – victim of hemorrhaging revenue and threats of trimmed delivery days – is holding its own in at least one place. On college campuses, packages and envelopes still get pre-Internet-style respect.

“If you ask a student, they say absolutely. They love getting the mail,” Renee Allan, who coordinates the Briar Cliff University mail room, told the Sioux City Journal.

The school has four residence halls and processes up to 25 mesh bags of mail a week, each holding about 70 pounds.

The numbers are steady in large part due to something email, tweets and texts can’t replace for students living on campus: reminders of home.

There are homemade cookies from Mom, birthday gifts and holiday presents. In most cases – especially for students from far-flung locations – it’s the only way.

That means the post offices at Briar Cliff and Morningside College aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, officials say.

At Morningside, 800 of the 1,180 mailboxes are in use these days at the Olsen Student Center, where student workers sort items at 11 a.m. every weekday during the school year.

Paige McKern, a sophomore from Glenwood, Iowa, manages the post office and employs 15 to 20 students a semester. A lot of the mail is magazines or newspapers from home, she said.

The relative popularity – overall, numbers are still down from previous years – is a bright spot for the Postal Service, which lost $354 million in the most recent quarter, between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31. The agency, which does not depend on tax money for operations, has lost money in 19 of the last 21 quarters.

The agency in response has adjusted prices – the most recent being in January, when the cost of sending a first-class letter went to 49 cents – and reduced staff. The Sioux City mail processing center at 2901 Murphy Drive was shuttered in October 2011 and operations moved to Sioux Falls.

A year ago this month, plans were announced to end Saturday delivery. The proposal, set to start in August, was nixed after a fierce backlash over concerns about delays in getting bills, magazines and Netflix DVD rentals.

Instead, the Postal Service aggressively marketed shipping and packaging services, generating a 19 percent increase in packages being mailed during the 2012 holiday season.

At Morningside, the biggest volume of mail comes during the holidays and early in the semester, when people order textbooks.

Allan said the Briar Cliff mail volume from August through January included 5,000 packages delivered to more than 450 on-campus boxes. Naturally, the heaviest users are from out of town.

Briar Cliff senior Amanda Huelskamp, of Omaha, goes to the student post office every day, hoping to receive mail.

“It’s sad, but true,” she said. “I still check every day, just in case.”

When something does arrive, she said, it’s a big deal. That’s something technology can’t replace.

“If one person gets mail,” Huelskamp said, “everyone is like, ‘Oh my gosh, what did you get?'”

Information from: Sioux City Journal, www.siouxcityjournal.com

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