By TIMOTHY INKLEBARGER
Subzero temperatures resulting in business and school closures across the country this week also brought mail delivery to a grinding halt in parts of Forest Park, served by the Oak Park substation at Garfield Street near Harlem Avenue.
Residents living on the south side of the village, on both sides of the Eisenhower Expressway, reported that mail deliver ceased Saturday and only Friday started to trickle in.
“I’m still missing some bank statements,” said Lin Beriback, who lives south of Roosevelt Road. Beribeck said her mail was sketchy for almost two weeks, and she’s worried about year-end documents, like retirement account statements, that seem to have vanished.
James Murray, of the 500 block of Hannah said he got a small mail delivery Friday, after a drought of no mail from Jan. 4 on. “Monday and Tuesday I can understand, because the weather was awful. But now it’s hit-and-miss and the weather is back to normal.” Murray said he got mail Friday, but not Saturday.
“I guess the postmaster’s idea of ‘back to normal’ is no mail five out of six days during the week,” Murray said.
Oak Park Postmaster Theresa Thurmond said workers not showing up led to a backlog that has still to be unsnarled.
Jan. 6, when the temperature dropped to minus 17 degrees, more than half of the mail carriers were unable to make it to work, she said. Those who did faced dangerously cold weather, icy streets and sidewalks. Thurmond said carriers had to use de-icer, WD-40 lubricant and, in some cases, hammers to pry open mailboxes that had frozen shut.
“It’s like you’re doing surgery,” she said.
According to Thurmond, the south station post office runs 37 routes, but 20 of the carriers were unable to make it to work on Monday, leaving 17 to pick up the slack. Oak Park’s Lake Street Post Office also had 18 carriers unable to make it in on Monday.
One employee who made it out came back with frostbite and another suffered hypothermia after returning from their route, Thurmond said.
By Thursday, both stations were operating with full staff.
“I’ve tried to explain the situation as much as possible about delivering what we could at the time,” Thurmond said. “Today we’re at 100 percent, and everyone that should get mail will get mail today.”
That didn’t happen, noted Larry Piekarz, Park District director, but a small delivery showed up Friday morning.
Not knowing what had happened to their mail or when deliveries would resume was the biggest point of consternation for residents.
Forest Parkers are talking to each other via Facebook, Beribak said, to find out who’s getting mail.
“I miss our old carrier Mike Elliot, who used to have everything delivered between noon and 1 p.m. like clockwork,” Beribek said. She said Elliot, who retired three years ago once confided to her that the mail route south of Roosevelt Rd. didn’t have lots of addresses, but was undesirable because there were so many single family homes with staircases.
Beribek said she got into a verbal conflict with an unnamed supervisor at the sub-station after a Christmas package was never delivered.
“He told me my stairs were broken,” she said. “That’s not true, and I do shovel twice a day because I want to keep things clear.”
Murray said he got a small delivery Friday morning and a verbal promise that more backed up mail would arrive later in the day.
“I understand the weather has been awful,” he said. “But don’t say it’s fixed when it’s not.”
Elizabeth Rexford of the 800 block of Lyman Avenue in Oak Park said she contacted the Postmaster General of the United States by email earlier this week and received a response Jan. 9 apologizing for the delay.
“Regrettably extreme weather conditions have presented themselves over the past week causing an adverse effect on our staff as well as our overall operations…Staff shortages have been experienced at many of our facilities,” the letter, in part, stated.
It goes on to state that due to extreme weather conditions, postal service policy requires carriers to return to branch offices by 6 p.m. As a result, some addresses may not get delivery for the day, according to the letter, and for those routes that were missed; they are given priority the following day.
According to Rexford, she was told by someone at the post office that she would receive her mail on Jan. 8, but it never arrived.
“I wonder why he thought we were going to get it, and we didn’t,” she said. “There’s something wrong with that situation.”
She noted that in addition to bills, some people receive medication through the mail.
“A lot of things are done by email, but a lot of mail is still very important to people,” she said.
According to Thurmond, mail service resumed to a normal schedule on Jan. 9 and that the delay was about keeping workers safe.
“Mail carriers are human,” she said. “They are people, and we want to send them home back to their people. It’s not about them being lazy; it’s about them being safe.”
Jean Lotus contributed to this story