Sure, Santa’s reindeer can fly. But making deliveries for one night doesn’t hold a candle to letter carrier Mia Gabriel’s endurance during the holiday season.
Beginning December 1, Gabriel, 52, puts on her Santa cap and poinsettia earrings and fastens Jon, her Elf on a Shelf, to her hip harness for a little help. Her routine is business as usual: Clock in at the post office at 8 a.m., spot check her vehicle, bundle and load her parcels into the back, set off toward her Point Loma route, and then prepare to make roughly 400 deliveries in six hours.
But this month there’s an 18 percent uptick in deliveries (USPS hires additional seasonal carriers to handle the high volume) and often more letters to carry back to the facility—including those for Santa.
"I’m his helper," Gabriel says with a little smirk, resting for a moment near San Diego Bay at the end of a "swing" (i.e., a road she travels down and back). "I have two kids over there that do Santa letters all the time. I have a few parents warn me, ‘Okay, the Santa letters are coming,’ so I’ll get it and tell the parents, ‘This is what they want.’ Others might already have a copy."
She knows about 85 percent of her customers, or as she refers to them, "my people" and her "postal family." She remembers some of the kids’ birthdays, greets the dogs by name, and once facilitated a house purchase—one of her customers was moving at the same time another a few blocks away was looking to buy within the neighborhood, and she introduced them.
"This is the best route ever," she says, referring also to its built-in gym membership. Gabriel walks six to seven miles per day achieving her 15 swings. "I don’t have to worry about a tan or working out. I do cardio all day," she says. "30 years with the post office, and you get the pick."
Of course, she had to put in her time for the bragging rights. Gabriel spent her first 10 years delivering in San Ysidro—her military family had moved there from the Philippines when she was a teenager—then in Mission Valley for another decade, and finally Old Town for five years before seniority gave her the pick of her current post.
An upgraded view doesn’t necessarily mean more glamorous deliveries. Dog food, cat litter, toilet paper—she drops them all off on the regular, due to a rise in online shopping. "But I love it," she says.
The holiday deliveries remain her favorite. "I try to do the best I can to give them their present in time to open Christmas morning. I would hate it if my kids didn’t get their present. It’s a great feeling, when they open the door and say, ‘That’s my package I’ve been waiting for!’"