It’s an industry that all Americans rely on, but with major funding cuts resulting in closed offices, decreased hours and layoffs, it is one that has been fighting for its survival.
But in San Pedro, this lack of United States Postal Service funding has played no role in services, hours or number of employees.
Simple. The 17 employees at one San Pedro post office are volunteers. The post office, located at Weymouth Corners at 1441 W. 8th St., has been operating as an all-volunteer office since 1966 – and that is something that won’t soon change.
It’s known as the only “all volunteer” post office in the United States, and for Marcia Hebert, a 19-year volunteer, it is definitely something to be proud of.
“We are a sisterhood,” she said of the volunteers. “We do this because we love it, it keeps us young, active and healthy – plus, this is a need that our community must have met.”
Each of the 17 volunteers, all trained just as any postal employee would be, are members of the San Pedro Assistance League, which not only benefits people in need of mail services, but a wide range of other philanthropic efforts, including the Frances J. Johnson Dental Center and Operation School Bell.
“All the money generated from the post office goes to charity,” Hebert says. “The funds that we make through postal services – stamps and metered mail – go directly to our other programs, not operating expenses, it strictly goes into our other programs.”
And this sum isn’t exactly small.
Last year, all of San Pedro Assistance League’s efforts combined gave just under $700,000 back to the community – to people and programs in need.
Shirley Tyler, president of the Assistance League of San Pedro, says it is all about giving back, volunteering for the greater good.
Tyler says the San Pedro chapter, started in 1936, is one of 120 chapters throughout the nation.
“We are an all volunteer charitable organization that has been devoted to the needs of children, families and seniors of San Pedro,” she says. “Our members continue to identify the changing needs and try to assist those in need.”
But how did this charitable organization start a post office?
It all came as a suggestion from businesses in the quaint Weymouth Corners neighborhood, Tyler says.
“A need was identified, so in 1966 stamps were sold over a Dutch door in the back corner of our gift shop,” Tyler says. “At that time we were in a small building, so we didn’t have room for more, but the demand was so high – stamps were always selling out.”
In 1997, Tyler says the Assistance League was moving into the building they are currently located on W. 8th St., and it was decided to make a space for a full-service post office.
“We take great pride in the post office,” Tyler says. “And it has a great significance. It is the only all-volunteer post office in the United States and maybe even the world. We are proud and all of San Pedro should be proud that we are here.”
Michele Kielbasa, an office administrator for the Assistance League, says each of the 17 women have been trained by the government to work as postal workers and each have taken the postal oath.
“They are dedicated women that really care about our South Bay community,” she says. “Each of the women is scheduled between four and six days a month, depending on need, and has a specific role within the post office — from scheduling to supplies and running the computer system.”
This is a service that this area needs, says Kielbasa.
“We provide a service for this area – we are the only post office on this side of town,” she says. “This neighborhood really is its own community. We have a bakery and deli, a shoe repair and a beauty salon, this is a community within a community and we will continue to serve this need.”
The Assistance League of San Pedro, in addition to the post office, also operates a gift shop, the Frances J. Johnson Dental Center and Operation School Bell. The League has nearly 450 volunteers who contribute 60,000 hours annually.
Kielbasa says women of the war founded the League, and it has stayed an all-women organization since.
“It has always been run by women,” she says. “Each member of the League is a dedicated, hardworking and passionate woman. These women give back tenfold – they are happy to be members and happy to be of service to the community in which they serve.”
Hebert, who has loyally served the customers of the San Pedro Post Office for 19 years, says working in the post office has helped her “keep her mind alert and stay social within the community.”
“I love visiting with everyone from the area,” she says. “I see people I went to school with, people I go to church with, and these people – the community – are so appreciative. A lot of our customers are older and sometimes it is their only communication for the day or only time they get out of the house all week. We serve all segments of the populous and they need it.”
Hebert, who will be 77-years-old in January, has no plans of slowing down.
“I love it,” she says, referring to working at the post office. “I won’t stop until I have to.”
As far as the 17 volunteers who keep the post office open five days a week, they are a “sisterhood,” Hebert says.
“We are so close, we are friends and in many senses family,” she says. “It is a social outlet, it is a sisterhood. Being a member of the Assistance League is a wonderful opportunity to meet people who have a common purpose. Our purpose is to serve the young people, the needy and the community as a whole. There is nothing better than to serve other people.” spt
The Assistance League Post Office and Gift Shop are located at 1441 W. 8th St. at Weymouth Corners. For more information on the Assistance League of San Pedro, visit www.sanpedrosouthbay.assistanceleague.org.