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Updated Nov 16, 2009 - 5:51 am

Mail carrier has unique bond with rural folk

YUMA, Ariz. - Neither rain, wind, nor scorching heat, will stop Yuma's rural mail carriers from delivering to Foothills residents who cherish that vital link to the daily loop.

Rural carriers have become like extended family to those living far afield from population centers. They make their postal drops in vehicles that have become known as the little post office on wheels, says rural mail carrier Belen Gillmore.

``I love my customers and being outdoors,'' Gillmore said. ``We can sell stamps, pick up packages, do certified letters and take it all to the post office for you.''

And Gillmore provides all the forms residents may need for change of address or to hold mail. Gillmore, who formerly drove her own car on her route is glad she has a company vehicle that has right-hand drive, which makes postal drops much easier as well as having far more room for all her packages.

``My first vehicle was a four-wheel drive with stick and bucket seats. I put all the mail in the king cab, but it was a little like juggling. But now I don't need a new transmission every three years.''

Gillmore said during the summer her rounds are just a ``seasonal route,'' with only 350 to 400 boxes. But when winter visitors return she can expect twice as many.

One of the reasons carriers forge a special bond with customers is because sometimes postal workers must follow special instructions. Some materials delivered in the mail must not only be handled with care, but can be ruined if left out in the desert's torrid heat, Gillmore explained.

One of her longtime deliveries is the residence of Heinz and Florence Ennenga who live east of the Fortuna Wash. Florence noted they are from the old school and ``still mail stuff out,'' such as letters and thank you notes, which are a little more personal than the electronic version.

``I'm 82 and I'm not about to learn how to use e-mail,'' Heinz said. ``We got good mail service because we got Belen.''

Gillmore has logged 19 years delivering on county roads, she noted. She typically racks up 26 miles in her daily route. The Ennenga's residence, while only six miles from the Foothills post office, is 17 miles from the Fourth Avenue main office. Rural carriers usually put in 298 miles a day completing deliveries.

Heinz explained that postal carriers probably deliver thousands of dollars of valuables to their customers, some of it merchandise and some in checks such as dividends, pensions and tax refunds.

``We get our pills in the mail. It's a lot cheaper that way. But they can't be left in the sun, so Belen honks her horn whenever we get pills and she doesn't have to do that. We sure rely on Belen. She's the best mail carrier we've ever had.''

Gillmore says another thing she keeps an eye on is whenever mail rates go up, she keeps plenty of one, two and three-cent stamps available so people do not have to use two first-class stamps.

``Heinz is often thoughtful enough to ask how I'm doing on my water. He'll offer to fill my jug,'' she said. ``I know his place is where I can stop and use the restroom or the phone if I need to. Heinz and Florence are caring and thoughtful people.''

This last spring Heinz wanted to honor his mail carriers. So he proposed that the Foothills Post Office establish a ``Rural Mail Carrier Week.'' Heinz said the station manager thought it was a good idea, but Heinz is still waiting for an official proclamation.

Heinz added he not only appreciates his mail carriers, but his garbage disposal carriers and paper carrier. He sends all three Christmas cards and he gets a note of appreciation in return.

``Mail carriers are the most unappreciated people there is. Belen takes an interest in her work and that's why she's interesting to talk to. She's always willing to help.''

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