White Mountain has been without regular postal service since late October, according to the U.S. Postal Service, after their former postmaster left her position and no full-time staff member has filled the opening.
While the Seward Peninsula community of roughly 200 residents waits to receive their mail, all first-class mail for White Mountain is being held in Nome until further notice.
Residents like Dorothy Barr — Kawerak Inc. Tribal Coordinator and the mother-in-law of the former White Mountain postmaster — are feeling the pressure.
“Especially with Christmas coming. People will be ordering Christmas presents, but thankfully we have Ryan Air,” Barr said, referring to the Alaska-based air cargo carrier.
Amazon packages on cargo flights are the only pieces of mail getting into White Mountain right now. Another main concern is over permanent fund dividends and money orders that have still not arrived, which especially affects elders without debit cards.
“It’s frustrating for folks, because all those people are waiting on bills to come in, they’re waiting for checks to come in — Social Security checks, permanent fund checks,” said White Mountain Mayor Dan Harrelson. “Some of them were distributed here when the itinerant workers came in, but, you know, people have groceries coming in.”
On top of that, anyone who receives their bills in the mail instead of electronically has not been able to receive them in a timely manner. This means that things like child support payments and credit card bills cannot be sent or received, forcing potential delinquencies and late fees.
Without a specific point of contact at the Postal Service, there is confusion in White Mountain about the timeline for when the new hire will arrive. Some residents have been told that there will be postal workers coming from surrounding communities weekly, but inclement weather has made that difficult.
In an emailed statement, Postal Service spokesperson Brian Sperry said that “weather permitting, we will continue to have an employee from another Post Office fly to White Mountain at least once a week to distribute mail and provide retail services until the staffing situation is resolved.”
Sperry also mentioned that the Postal Service has hired two new workers who will be in White Mountain sometime during December, and they’re actively looking to hire more employees in the community. Sperry did not mention whether these two new workers will be full-time.
White Mountain isn’t the only community whose mail has been in a state of flux, however.
Koyuk was without postal service for the majority of this past summer, but it now has a full-time postmaster. A representative from Koyuk’s post office said she was unable to comment due to a Postal Service policy preventing employees from doing interviews with the media.
The former postmaster for White Mountain, Rochelle Adams, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Harrelson said that the Postal Service has not been actively communicating with White Mountain, causing anxiety among residents, and no clear timeline has been conveyed to them.
“They haven’t contacted the village, as far as I’m aware of, directly,” Harrelson said. “Several residents of White Mountain called the Postal Service and asked them, ‘What’s going on?’ and, ‘How come we can’t get a itinerant worker in here and get our mail sorted?’ But the Postal Service hasn’t been very outgoing or forthcoming on all that’s going on.”
With the holiday season quickly approaching, White Mountain residents are uncertain if their gifts and packages will arrive in time for Christmas Day.