For some, making a trip to the post office during the holidays can be a hassle.
There can be long — and slow-moving — lines. Sometimes, miscommunications can cause delays in packages.
It can make for some sullen, irritated customers.
But there’s one South Hill Post Office employee who aims to brighten the mood. Lead mail clerk Keith Shockey, 63, wants his customers to enjoy coming to the post office.
“The happier you are, the happier I am,” Shockey said.
During the post office’s peak season — starting Nov. 19 through the end of the year — the office receives about three times the volume of mail than it does the rest of the year. On Dec. 19, with less than a week to go until Christmas, the South Hill Post Office was bustling. That morning, the line had stretched — and not for the first time — from the shipping desks across the room to the front entrance. Only after the line had dwindled a bit did Shockey, wearing a red and green hat with elf ears, come around the front desk to ask what the first customer in line needed help with.
The woman gestured to the package she intended to mail. Shockey took the package, pretended to weigh it in his hands and proceeded to guess the correct price. The customer blinked in surprise, then, realizing he was joking, smiled, and took the package back.
Shockey had already moved down the line, joking with the next customer about the destination of his mail.
“Texas? So, international?” Shockey said.
South Hill Postmaster Teressa Velgersdijk said that Shockey’s good sense of humor and spirit is just a part of his personality, which makes him a valuable employee, especially during the time of year when tensions can run high.
“He can just diffuse that (tension),” Velgersdijk said. “I don’t know how he does it.”
Velgersdijk has heard Shockey joke to customers about leaving their shoes in line and running to get coffee. He’s suggested they all sing Christmas carols. He’s joked that whoever brings him cookies can come to the front of the line.
“He just makes it fun,” she said. “It’s the clerks that really make or break any post office.”
On his desk sits a basket of candy canes, purchased every year with his own money, that Shockey hands out to both kids and adults alike. Sometimes, his customers will return the favor and bring cookies for him and his team.
Shockey insists that it’s not just him. The whole team, comprised of fellow clerks Armanda, Chris, Stephanie and Oksana, do their best to generate a positive atmosphere for their customers.
“Hopefully when they leave, they leave with a smile,” he said.
Shockey was born in Denmark and moved to the United States when he was about 7 years old. As he grew up, he became interested in stamp collecting and worked at a post office in California before moving to Puyallup 17 years ago. He started at the South Hill Post Office as a mail carrier.
But he soon realized that he enjoyed working with customers. And that’s where, Velgersdijk said, his true personality shined through.
But the work is not always easy.
“The public expects a lot … (They) want to go somewhere where you can get efficient, fast service,” Shockey said, adding that as a clerk, there are “a lot of different pressures” when it comes to juggling efficiency with friendly service.
But at the end of the day, Shockey said he loves his job and the people he works with.
“We like what we’re doing. We want to do a good job,” Shockey said. South Hill Post Office employees and its customers “have a really good, friendly relationship — I wouldn’t say like a family, but there’s respect there.”