The U.S. Postal Service is in danger of bankruptcy at a time when their service is considered 'essential.' While postal workers are delivering important items, like prescriptions and mail-in ballot applications, they're also a source of some comforts — either by delivering less essential items for lifing up people's spirits or just a familiar face. In this episode, Thomas Jackson is that familiar face, a postal worker of nearly two decades with a route running through the Pittsburgh neighborhoods of East Liberty and Lincoln-Lemington.
JOURDAN HICKS: Thomas Jackson spent seven years in the military. He's wearing a different uniform nowadays. He's a postal worker.
THOMAS: “I have a duty to do. And it’s to provide a service to my community as well as our society. Pretty much like when I was in the military.”
JOURDAN HICKS: Thomas has been a postal worker in Pittsburgh for nearly two decades. His route goes through the East Liberty business district andLincoln-Lemington. The Google and UPMC offices are on his route. So are stores like FreePeople, Anthropologie and the small businesses on Washington Avenue like Camp Bow Wow and B&R Pools. Thomas says it’s important to him to make a connection with all of them.
THOMAS: “I want to have a relationship with everybody on my route. I want to know everyone on my route. Not only for their well being but for mine, too.”
MIKE BONAVITA: “Thomas has become almost a staple of the route on Washington Blvd”
JOURDAN HICKS: Mike Bonavita owns B&R pools. It’s been his family’s business for three generations now.
MIKE BONAVITA: “It’s always good talking to Thomas when he comes in. I know a lot about his family now over the years. And we bonded because we both like basketball. Play basketball with a bunch of old guys a couple days a week and he’s come out a few times when he’s able to. Real personable guy and really good to talk to and brightens the day a little bit especially in the monotony of being in the office with no phones ringing and no customers around. He’s a super guy .”
THOMAS: The thing I like best about my job is being out in the open all by myself and my community and my customers, that’s the thing I like best about it.
JOURDAN HICKS: Thomas doesn’t know of any postal workers who have gotten sick in Pittsburgh. But reports are that nationwide, 1,200 people have tested positive for coronavirus. More than 30 employees have died. So, although this is a small fraction of the overall 630,000-person workforce, some postal workers are nervous. And speaking out. Thomas Jackson does feel protected. He says he has what he needs to do his job as safely as possible. But there are some things he wishes people knew about what it’s like to do his job right now.
THOMAS: We are on the frontlines just like first responders and everybody else. We're all in this together, you know, or more as one. So when we talk about the first responders, our nurses and people in the first line. We're all in this together, you know, so we just need to pray for one another. That's what's going to get us through this - it’s the prayer.
JOURDAN HICKS: We’ll have the rest of Thomas’s story right after this break.
THOMAS: My name is Thomas Jackson. I’ve been a mail carrier for 18 years at the postal service station out of East Liberty, Pennsylvania. I walk probably about eight to 10 miles a day, easy.
I'm wearing a mask. That's one thing I'm getting used to. But I have to wear it for my protection and for those around me. So I deal with it, even when it is very uncomfortable.
The first time I actually heard about the coronavirus, I would have to say, I am going to say late January going into February. I had no idea that it would have an impact on our nation, period, the way that it is; let alone the United States Postal Service.
NEWS CLIP: “Another casualty of the coronavirus pandemic could be the Post Office. The U.S. Postal Service is running out of cash and advocates want Congress to provide additional funding in the next stimulus bill.
NEWS CLIP: But like many essential businesses, the USPS is making adjustments. A spokesman tells us millions of masks, gloves and sanitizing products have been made available to workers.
NEWS CLIP: The agency says it lost nearly 9 billion dollars last fiscal year. Yet during the coronavirus pandemic, its services, which have been deemed essential, are more vital than ever.
THOMAS: We're out there every day in contact with people constantly, so we don't know who has and who doesn't have it. Scary. It's scary.
Me, as a carrier, what I do is I try to rotate my gloves every half hour while I am on the street, sanitize my hands every time I change my gloves.
Whatever the time is going to take for us to be cautious so that we can get the essential needs and necessities to the people that we need to get them to then that's what we have to do.
The Postal Service makes sure that they fully equip us with everything that we need from masks to gloves to hand sanitizers, they even go as far as they have someone come in at least once a week and spread down our vehicles, so I feel as protected as I possibly can. Well, I feel protected as I possibly can with what we have to work with. But there's a lot of other things that we have to do as individual people, you know, like our daily routines.
Keep your hands washed, you know, keep your hands off your face.
Yes, definitely, I consider myself a frontline worker, I am there every day in contact with the public, helping to provide the necessary needs to help to control this coronavirus which is going on right now. So I definitely feel as though we're frontline workers, for sure. Put in a grind every day just like the rest of them.
We are also the eyes and ears of the community, we're alert to everything that goes on. If we see anything out of the ordinary, especially when it comes to the elderly people, if we notice that you have a backup of mail in your mailbox. OK. We're willing to contact our supervisor and they make a decision if they want to make a call ahead to the police or E.M.S. or whatever, to go through a wellness check on the household and find out what's going on from there.
So normally, if I see a backup in a mail. I ask them to may make a call.
My customers, they're very appreciative of what we are doing. I cannot stress or say the amount of people that's not even on my route that see me out there doing what I'm doing and every day they comfort me and appreciate me and thank me for what I am doing. It makes -- I cannot say 'me' -- it makes us feel as an organization, “Okay. Hey, our community appreciates what we're doing,” and it makes me feel really good. My residential neighborhood as well as some of our businesses with social distancing, they are taking it real seriously.
There is limited activity on the streets. There are limited people walking on the streets. That's the biggest change that I see being in a house with social distancing, being alone there are some people glad to come out and get some fresh air or just get out. But there are some that come out. You know, I would socialize but very briefly because I got a job to do, but at the same time, when I socialize I make sure they keep their 6 feet-plus in front of me. And they just have normal questions. You know, how am I holding up in this situation? You know ,concerns about your family, they ask about your family, how's your family holding up, you know.
So they're very caring for us. You know, for us as carriers.
A lot of my people in the community, residential people in the community, they all seem to be doing pretty well, you know. As far as some of my businesses on my route, a lot of my businesses that had to shut down because of this. So I know they are probably taking a hit -- I know they're taking a hit, and that's a serious thing that we need to realize. The norm is not going to be the norm anymore in our country. I mean, you have a lot of small businesses out here right now that they might not even be able to recoup at all from this. So it's sad. I'm very fortunate and blessed, very thankful for the position that I'm in right now and being able to work and being able to help provide, you know, as we try to get through this covid-19. So I'm actually holding up pretty good, it's work as usual.
You know, I got a job to do. At the same time I am thankful that I have a job. That I am working because I have a family that I gotta support.
You know, it is a hard time. But for the most part, as serious as it is I can't let this hinder me from doing what I gotta do as far as my job is concerned. As far as what I am going to do to take care of my family.
This podcast was produced by Andy Kubis and edited by Mila Sanina and Halle Stockton.
If you have a story you’d like to share, please get in touch with us. You can text a voice memo to 412-432-9669 or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, if you like what you hear, we'd like to ask for your support. PublicSource is an independent nonprofit newsroom in Pittsburgh. Please support local journalism and storytelling by going to publicsource.org/donate.