LISA PONTES | Postmaster Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, the U.S. Postal Service is expected to deliver 600 million packages. If you include cards, that’s 15.5 billion pieces of mail, including letters to Santa Claus, to be delivered nationwide. Last year, Newport postal carriers collected approximately 75 letters to Santa, and Lisa Pontes expects even more this year thanks to a new special red postbox at the main post office on Thames Street exclusively for collecting North Pole-bound letters. It’s this neighborly sense of service that Pontes fosters in her role as Newport’s first female postmaster. Since she started her postal career in 1994 as a part-time flexible mail clerk in Fall River, Mass., the 50-year-old Tiverton resident has worked her way up through the ranks, serving as a postmaster in both Tiverton and Wakefield before taking over former Newport Postmaster Scott Beeman’s position this past January. You won’t find a bigger advocate for the U.S. mail than Pontes, who notes that the Postal Service delivers to 154 million addresses every day and is the largest retail organization in the country — larger than Walmart, Starbucks and McDonald’s combined.
What are the deadlines for mailing cards and packages in time for Christmas? December 15th would be the cutoff for Standard Post. December 19th for First Class mail. The 21st for Priority — that’s our two to three day delivery service. The 23rd for last minute shoppers who would use our Priority Mail Express. That’s an overnight to one-day service we provide.
Does the cost spike for those rushed packages? It depends on the weight and size of the package unless you use a flat rate box. And it also depends on the location you’re sending it to. For Priority Mail, an average box runs $5 to $6. The Priority Express Mail average starts at around $14.
Do you get many letters to Santa? We do. Actually we just had a tour with 5th through 8th graders from a local school. I brought them into my secretary and said, “This is Tina, she’s my little elf. See all the Santa letters here? At the end of the day, my elf Tina collects all the letters for Santa, puts them in her red bag, and when she’s leaving, she drops them in the mailbox out front. Santa has a special key and at night, when everyone’s sleeping, he comes and grabs all the letters from the kids.” And they were like, “Oh, really?!” (Laughs.) I had treats for them. They had a ball! We all went outside and mailed all of their letters.
What do you do with the Santa letters that the post office receives? We respond and send them a special letter from Santa with a cancellation stamp from the North Pole. I actually go out and buy little gift packages with coloring books and crayons for the kids for their Santa letters. My secretary was like, “What are you doing? The poor kids. What if they move out of Newport?!”
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen people send or try to send? Alcohol! We are a government entity, so we are not as flexible as private businesses for shipping. We cannot accept alcohol. Someone just mailed alcohol and the bottle broke. It’s really difficult for us because any time there’s a leaking package, I have a cleanup team I have to send in. We have to take precautions due to the anthrax scare in 2001.
In what ways has the Postal Service changed since you started as a mail clerk over two decades ago? Our letter volume has decreased tremendously due to the internet and social media. I remember being a clerk, having to distribute mail and actually having to walk over piles. Now we’re struggling for mail. Our packages are increasing while our first class letter mail is decreasing.
How do you plan on tackling these changes as Newport postmaster? I try to get out into the community as much as I can. I help costumers with their advertising, mailing and shipping needs and help them determine whether they can benefit from using the Postal Service. I will hold “Grow Your Business Day” seminars every third Thursday on the second floor of the post office at 10 a.m. starting in the new year.
How do you deal with your competitors? We are actually partners with them. UPS and FedEx pay us to deliver most of their ground packages and we pay them for using their air transportation. They take advantage of our expansive delivery network because we deliver to every residence and business that receives mail. They do not. Nobody has an infrastructure like that. Not even Amazon! We signed a contract with them — we deliver Amazon packages seven days a week, even on Sundays, when a couple years ago they were talking about the Postal Service going down to five days of delivery. We are still here! We are over 200 years old. Not many businesses can say that. Our mission has always been customer service. My goal, my focus, is getting employees engaged. I’m more of the old-school way — I want my mail carriers to be a family friend.
Does the Postal Service feel like a male-dominated field? Not at all. The first woman postmaster general, Megan Brennan, was promoted this year. Times are changing. We are one of the most diverse organizations. We employ everyone.
What led you to pursue leadership roles in the Postal Service? I was one of six children, and I was the baby. I had to learn to be the boss! (Laughs.) I am the nurturing type. I have good values and morals and owe that all to my mom and dad. I believe that they instilled leadership qualities within me.
What is your leadership style? I’m a team player. When I got here I mentioned to my employees, “We all work for the same organization. We are just at different levels.” I want to create a safe working environment. I hold one-on-ones with my employees almost daily. I have an open-door policy in my office downstairs: I moved down there to be closer to my employees and be on the workroom floor. I’m hands-on. I’m not going to ask you to do something I haven’t done myself. I think employees are really receptive to that.
A few years ago the Broadway post office was considered for closure.
Do you have any new news on this? Our lease is still going strong there for a few years. It’s a convenient location. Keep utilizing the Postal Service and we won’t have to worry about closing any locations.
Do you have any favorite stamps? I love the gingerbread houses. They’ve been around for a couple years, but the Charlie Brown holiday stamp is a new one. We have 10 blocks of them.
What would you love to find in a package mailed to you during the holidays? All I’m thinking about this Christmas is how I can volunteer my services. Actually a woman just called. She’s doing a wonderful thing with children making care packages for the troops overseas that aren’t going to be home for Christmas. I told her to bring them on down and the Postal Service will take care of all the postage. For me, for Christmas, I want everyone’s family to be safe. I don’t need any materialistic things. I want my granddaughter to grow up in a world that’s peaceful and thriving. That’s all I could ask for.