The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t just drastically reduce mail volume and stretch the USPS’s chronically-thin bottom line even thinner in the process. It also hamstrung much of the postal service’s workforce. Older workers, fearing exposure, were retiring early. Others were forced home, either to quarantine or to care for locked-down family members. Some fell ill themselves. Those who were able to work often faced PPE shortages and relied on donations from the community.
In late April, 2020, I spent several mornings documenting at the Boardwalk Drive branch in Saginaw Township, Mich. and accompanying letter carrier and local NALC (National Association of Letter Carriers) chapter president, Mark Swan, on his delivery route. At the time, he had just finished quarantining at home for two weeks due to a workplace exposure. Retirement notices from several senior letter carriers were sitting on his desk at the local union office. And he had resorted to picking up boxes of surgical gloves and masks in the mailbox of a local dentist in order to shore up the branch's supply.
Still, Mark arrived at work each day with a sense of pleasure and purpose. Pandemic or not, people were relying on him to bring them their mail—people he had come to know and care for.