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Post office investigates missing mail from Vashon

One Sunday earlier this month, Vashon Community Care’s Ruth Steen mailed nearly 20 envelopes containing gift certificates for items people had won during the center’s recent fundraising auction. Those gift certificates — and hundreds of other pieces of mail sent from Vashon at roughly the same time — never made it to their intended destinations, and postal investigators have been called in to find the mail and determine what went wrong.

Mail dropped off after the final collection time on Saturday, March 1, through Monday, March 3, was still unaccounted for at press time on Monday, postal authorities said. The missing mail includes mail put in personal mailboxes as well as mail dropped off at mail collection boxes and at the post offices themselves.

Post office officials say they believe investigators will locate the mail, and then it will be sent to the intended destinations.

“We are working on locating it and will make sure it gets dispatched as quickly as possible,” said Wally Olihovik, the director of government relations at the United States Postal Service Office of the Inspector General. “Just as important, we will be working to determine where the breakdown in the system was.”

Investigators have determined the mail left the island and was accepted at the processing plant, said Gail Green, Vashon’s postmaster.

Olihovik said that he believes one large bin of mail is missing, but he says he and other post office officials have no way of knowing how much mail was in it.

An event like this, he said, happens “tremendously infrequently,” but he believes the mail will be located soon.

“I’m pretty confident it’s going to be found in a short period of time,” he said last week.

Green said she feels the same way.

“Absolutely, I am optimistic it will be found soon,” she said.

Green noted she is keeping a list of people who wish to be notified when the mail is found, and people interested in being added to the list should contact her, and she will notify them directly.

“I am going to do everything I can possibly do to get this resolved,” she said.

Some people have expressed frustration with limited information coming from postal employees and the lack of notice about the missing mail. Green, however, said that at first she and her colleagues did not realize the scope of the problem until they received multiple complaints. Furthermore, she said, she and other local postal staff are limited in what they can say.

“Any information given to the public from the post office has to come through the Office of Public Affairs,” she said.

While authorities do not know yet what happened to Vashon’s mail, Olihovik said that in other instances when mail has disappeared, it has been found in a postal location under a large mailbag, for example, or mistakenly set off to the side out of view.

Green noted she has never experienced mail missing on this magnitude before and wishes she could provide affected postal customers with helpful information, but cannot.

“We don’t have answers to give at this time, unfortunately,” she said.

She also noted that the post office has procedures in place to prevent events like this from happening.

“The post office has very strict operating procedures to ensure the security of the mail,” she said.

At the care center, Director of Development Linda Milovsoroff said the missing mail has created a headache. During their recent Labor of Love online auction, many people bid on a variety of items, and several of the missing envelopes contained more than one gift certificate. In all, she said, 37 Labor of Love gift certificates went astray, plus seven gift certificates from island merchants  that the center itself cannot reprint.

Steen, who mailed the bundle, also noted that it will likely take them nearly 15 hours to duplicate their work — and additional time for island merchants to re-create the certificates as well.

“It’s major for us, a major cost,” she said.

The missing mail has also proven costly for Island Home Center & Lumber, said Gina Jacobs, the executive assistant at the store. She mailed nearly 400 statements on March 3.

“Gone. Every one of them,” she said.

Customers began inquiring where their statements were in the middle of the week, she added, and she and other staff had to redo the billing, which took staff time and cost the business an added expense of almost $400 for the paper and postage. It also delayed income to the lumber yard, she said, as the bills are due on the 10th of the month.

Joyce Olson, an accountant on Vashon, said she called the post office and found out about the missing mail after she noticed several checks she had issued around that time had not cleared. The timing of the issue is especially problematic, she said, since March 3 was the first business day of the month and many islanders likely mailed bill payments and rent and mortgage payments.

Olson has now reissued some payments, but said she was concerned that if the mail is eventually found and sent, it could result in double payments .

“If all of us reissue our checks, all of us are in trouble,” she said.

While Olihovik says he understands people’s frustrations, he encouraged people not to lose faith in the post office.

Last year, he said, the post office shipped more than 150 billion piece of mail.

“When you’re handling that much volume, things can go wrong,” he said. “Most of the time, they don’t.”

 

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