Regular mail becomes less so in Alaska village

AP News
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Posted: Dec 05, 2014 12:10 PM

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A village on a remote Alaska island in the Bering Sea has been without a regular mail delivery service since the community's only postal worker quit last month because of pregnancy.

Residents of the Yup'ik Eskimo community of Savoonga say the U.S. Postal Service has flown in intermittent help to fill in when it can, but for days at a time there has been no one to distribute mail and packages arriving by plane. That lack of regular service has slowed the delivery of checks to residents and cash to the village store, the closest thing to a bank in the community of about 700.

"So that's a problem," Savoonga Mayor Myron Kingeekuk said.

Kingeekuk said his daughter, Natasha, was 7 months pregnant when she resigned in mid-November because she couldn't afford to lift heavy boxes. He said his daughter had been asking for backup help.

A Postal Service worker from the western Alaska village of Teller just arrived Wednesday and will stay through the end of next week to help out. Efforts are underway to fill the vacancy permanently, according to Postal Service spokeswoman Dawn Peppinger in the Alaska district.

Peppinger said the resignation was not done with enough advance notice to prepare someone to quickly fill the position. The Postal Service tries to have at least two relief workers at every rural community to fill in if necessary.

There was no second worker available in Savoonga, located on Saint Lawrence Island 675 miles northwest of Anchorage and just 90 miles from Russia's Cape Chukotskiy.

The vacancy has been posted as available and three people have expressed interest in it, according to Peppinger, who said the goal is to hire two people.

But until the positions are filled, the Postal Service has had the difficult task of finding relief workers from other communities who are willing to go to an isolated village with limited amenities, Peppinger said. It's a challenge to find people willing to travel to "the middle of nowhere, Alaska," she said.

"They have to be prepared to, you know, be out of their comfort zone a little," she said. "We have to make arrangements and find somebody willing and get them in there."

Francis Waghiyi, manager the village store, said even with regular post office staffing, getting cash to Savoonga from Anchorage can take more than a week. Without regular staffing, the store has run low on money and people have had to wait before they can obtain their checks to cash them or use their debit cards to shop.

"It hurts the village community-wise," Waghiyi said. "We're on a remote island. The only cash we can get is through an airplane."

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