Little Bethlehem does big business during Christmas

BETHLEHEM -- "Little" is a term used to define Bethlehem, both in the Christmas carol about Jesus Christ's birthplace and the small community between Lawrenceville and Athens. But come Christmastime, it's hard to describe the local post office's business that way.

Dec. 13 to 17 is the busiest week of the year for the postal workers in Bethlehem, said sales service associate Kim Camp. "We've got them coming from everywhere," she said. "People mail them to us. ... One's from Indiana, we had one from Germany."

This is the only time of year that the Bethlehem post office actually cancels any of its mail, Camp said. It is usually sent to the larger facility on Boggs Road in Duluth. But for this special occasion, an old machine that stamps "seasons greetings from Bethlehem" is put into service.

"The day after Thanksgiving this old machine gets taken out once a year, and we'll run every single card ourselves here with the Bethlehem stamp," Camp said.

Customers also have the option of using a stamp of the three wise men in the post office lobby. Ink is available in red and black, and visitors can also sign a guest book on the counter.

Linda Rentz of Hoschton stopped by the post office Monday -- her second trip this year -- to make sure her 91-year-old mother in North Dakota and other friends and family got a special greeting for Christmas.

"It doesn't cost any more, and it makes people happy," she said.

Bethlehem resident Lisa Doran has been mailing cards from the post office since she moved to the small town in 2001. "It's a tradition," she said.

Evelyn Liles and Bob Sharpless made the trip from Covington to get cards stamped with the post office's special greeting.

"I've been meaning to come up here for years and years," Liles said. It's her first time making the trip, and she said it should be worth it.

Since Camp started working for the post office in Bethlehem, she has seen more than a 300 percent increase in card traffic.

"Six years ago, I hand-canceled 58,000 Christmas cards," she said. "Now we're up to 200,000."

Hildegarde Schmid is in her first week as officer in charge as the Bethlehem branch. While the extra traffic was a surprise for her, she said keeping busy helps her deal with her son leaving Monday for Marine training at Parris Island, S.C.

"I didn't know it was going to hit me that hard," Schmid said. "He's my only kid."

Camp and Schmid are part of a team at the post office that includes Melinda Holloman, who is also a sales service associate, and carriers Tonya Hendrix and Anita Ransom. The entire team chips in to help the unit process the increase in holiday mailings.

"Anita and Tonya are cross-trained and they help us," Camp said. "If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't make it. They run routes when they're scheduled to, but whenever they're not scheduled they've been trained to help us."

The extra business during the season is just part of living in the namesake of the birthplace of Christ, and it's part of what makes the town special.

"It's a small community that really just likes to practice the faith," Camp said. "Most of our streets are named after the Bible. We've got Manger, David, Joseph, Mary, Angel, Christmas, Star Street. It's really just a biblical town."