I Am Lander: No mail controversy here - Michelle Weeks is the heart of Lander’s postal service
Monday, Aug 31, 2020
Michelle Weeks in post office
Michelle Weeks, the director of Lander’s Post Office, gets an early start each day sorting mail for students and campus staff. But that’s only the beginning. She’s also responsible for receiving multiple shipments and making sure those items are checked in and delivered. Already, the post office is 40 percent over deliveries from Fall 2019. Photo by Laura Brown

College students live for messages sent via social media.

But if there’s one thing that Michelle Weeks has learned in nearly 10 years of work at Lander University: College students love the U.S. Postal Service, and, like many other Americans, they eagerly await deliveries of letters and the numerous items they’ve ordered online.

“People still get mail. A lot of it,” said Weeks, Lander’s Post Office director, who shares the daunting challenge of sorting and delivering the mail at the Grier Student Center with part-time student employees Genia Nicholson, of Johnston, and Kamiyah Brown, of Abbeville.

“Students are always excited to get mail, whether it’s something they ordered or a surprise.”

How much mail might this be? Lander has 1,800 student mailboxes for its on-campus residents.

“Parents, family members and friends still mail letters, and sometimes money, to students. Books and magazines are sent, and, of course, there are the cards from Nana,” she said. “Each of these items is important.”

The beginning of the academic year is not unlike a holiday season for U.S. Postal Service carriers. In the first week of class, Lander’s post office received 1,759 packages – up 40 percent from the same time last year when 1,053 packages were delivered.

“It takes about one minute to receive a package in our system and about two minutes to deliver one,” said Weeks, whose mega-watt enthusiasm and energy aren’t hidden by the dozens of boxes surrounding her.

Among the items received so far this semester are furniture, mattresses, refrigerators, carpet and “tons of textbooks,” which are ordered online and delivered via the mail to students.

“The first few weeks back are always a busy time on any college campus, and our post office is no exception,” said Weeks. “We are experiencing an unprecedented workload. Increased online ordering, thanks in part to free Amazon Prime shipping, and concerns over in-person shopping during Covid-19 are keeping us busy.”

While back-to-school items are expected, the campus post office has received unusual items in the past, including a set of automobile tires and a four-person motorized boat, she said.

“Over the past five years, the number of packages we receive has more than doubled,” Weeks said. “Part of this is because of the increase in our student enrollment, and part is because of online shopping. People have no idea about the volume of letters and packages that we have in this office.”

Postal activity is further enhanced by campus mail sent between departments and a tremendous volume of mail generated by the University for prospective and new students. In the past year, 255,098 pieces of mail – a weekly average of 4,906 items -- were generated from Lander.

Sitting at her desk before the start of the workday, Weeks surveyed the packages waiting for delivery. “We don’t have a lot of space. In fact, we’re at capacity.”

Weeks is the embodiment of the unofficial U.S. postal motto that “neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Before deliveries can be processed, Weeks undergoes the Herculean task of getting mail and packages to Lander’s post office itself. Because the elevator the office uses is temporarily out of order, Weeks and her staff make several trips to Lander’s visitor parking area to collect all of the items delivered by the U.S. Postal Service to campus.

“It is often several heavy loads that we roll across the plaza,” she said.

Despite the labor-intensive tasks, and increased workload, Weeks thrives on the energy of the students who arrive at the post office window and eagerly await their packages. “Sometimes, they’ll open the package right in front of us, and we’ll get to see the dress or sweater that they’ve ordered.”

And, while Weeks understands the importance of face masks to halt the spread of COVID-19, she admits, “I miss the students being able to see our ‘welcome back’ smiles. And I really miss seeing their smiles.”

Weeks, who lives in Antreville, began her career in letter sorting and delivery at Anderson University. A temporary employee at the bookstore, she often was asked to assist in the campus post office. When the postmistress retired, Weeks was hired for the position.

She joined Lander in 2011 and afterward began studies for a bachelor’s degree in accounting, which she earned in 2017 from Lander’s College of Business. She will graduate in May 2021 with her master’s degree in management. “I’m a poster child for going back to school later in life,” she said with a laugh.

During the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders in the spring, Weeks juggled her work at the University and master’s degree studies, with helping her daughters, ages 14 and 7, complete their school work. “I have an even greater appreciation for our teachers,” she said. “I am not a teacher.”

Weeks is quick to volunteer in the community as an assistant softball coach and a Girl Scout leader for her daughters' activities. She shares the responsibilities of five dogs and three cats with her girls. “But it is fair to say that school is very much the focus of our lives,” she said.

Stress relief comes in the form of driving her Jeep. “I love taking my Jeep out in the woods. It’s covered in mud and scratches. If there’s a trail, I’m going to take it.” And if there’s a letter waiting to be delivered, Weeks will make sure it gets to its destination.