- Jeb Wallace-brodeur
- Cassie Molleur, Rural mail carrier, East Calais Post Office
Cassie Molleur would like to suggest an amendment to the unofficial motto of the U.S. Postal Service, which reads: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."
"Notice it doesn't say anything about pandemics?" quipped the rural mail carrier on a recent summerlike May morning while loading her Jeep outside the East Calais Post Office.
Molleur, 46, who lives in Woodbury with her husband, also a postal carrier, has delivered mail to the 456 addresses in zip code 05650 for nearly 20 years. As the town's lone carrier, she's made her appointed rounds in blizzards, downpours, heat waves and the dark. She delivered while pregnant with both of her now-college-age children. The pandemic didn't "stay" her either — though it presented unprecedented challenges.
"My favorite time of year to deliver the mail used to be at Christmastime, because it was high-paced, high-demand," Molleur said. Then, she added with a laugh, "But the pandemic dragged that out for about 14 months."
Throughout the coronavirus crisis, isolated Vermonters have relied on the mail for everything from household goods to medicine to groceries — particularly in rural towns such as East Calais, a village in Calais, population 1,529.
"Delivering toilet paper was a big deal," Molleur said.
Carriers also delivered stimulus checks, election ballots and paychecks. Molleur said she saw an uptick in personal mail, too: "greeting cards and care packages that people were sending to family members and loved ones that they could not see but still wanted to be in touch with.
"Especially in the beginning of the pandemic, so many people didn't go anywhere," Molleur continued. She often delivered stamped envelopes to customers so they wouldn't have to go to the post office for postage. "People really counted on us."
Molleur's hours haven't been much different during the pandemic — mail needs to be delivered and collected in the same time frame every day. But she explained that the volume and type of mail she carried changed drastically.
"Paper mail dropped, since businesses weren't sending out mail," she said. "But I was delivering four times as many packages."
The apex was January 2, according to East Calais postal clerk Anne Toolan. That day Molleur delivered 260 packages. Pre-pandemic, her route average was about 60.
"You adjust your pace to get it done," Molleur said. "You do what you gotta do."
"The stress levels were high," Toolan acknowledged. "But we came in every day, we used humor, and we made it through."
Molleur said delivering mail amid the COVID-19 pandemic was "challenging in a way I never expected to have to deal with." As an example, she recalled the initial days of the pandemic when the science was still out on how long the coronavirus could live on surfaces. A coworker would spray her packages with Lysol, she said, "because we weren't sure if we were gonna die from handling packages."
As one of very few people out and about, especially during Vermont's initial lockdown, Molleur had a unique window on the pandemic in East Calais. She recalled the eerie feeling of driving empty roads. She said customers often wanted to talk — from a distance — since she was frequently their only outside human contact. Others left notes explaining that they opened their mailboxes with a stick so she wouldn't have to worry about their "germs" on the handle. Still others washed their mailboxes with soap and hot water.
"It seems so crazy to think about that now, but it was a thing," Molleur said.
As much as the mail was a lifeline for the residents of East Calais, Molleur said her customers also kept her going. Many would leave thank-you notes and other small gifts in their mailboxes, all of which she's kept.
"Having people leave notes saying how much they appreciated you with little bottles of hand sanitizer, it was like gold. It keeps you going, and I'm really proud of how we worked through the pandemic."
"That's just who she is," Toolan said of Molleur. "She wants to take care of her people."