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Barrow County's Bethlehem gets its postmarks ready for Christmas

POSTED: December 26, 2008 5:00 a.m.

BETHLEHEM—The post office in the little town of Bethlehem starts rocking in December with customers from across the state bringing their Christmas cards for the postmark from the town named for the birthplace of Jesus.

Postal workers ‘deck the halls’ of the little brick building after Thanksgiving with decorations and prepare for the rush.

Last year the post office and its 13 workers processed 131,300 pieces of Christmas-related mail. Customers stamp their mail at the small table by the entrance with the Three Wise Men stamp, then deposit the letters in a post office box decorated with garland and placed inside just for Christmas mail.

This year, a notice on the door asks customers to donate a food item for the Barrow County Food Bank.

"Every post office I have ever been at tried to do something for the community," said Postmaster Ada Czajkowski. "This is my third year in Bethlehem and I just haven’t been able to pull anything together before. I thought the food bank collection would be a good idea."

Robert Sullivan of Flowery Branch read about the food drive and collected food from his office to bring to Bethlehem, along with his Christmas cards.

"This is a first for me," said Sullivan, referring to posting his cards.

For others, the visit to the Bethlehem post office at Christmas is a tradition.

Pam Wood and Jan Bentley both traveled from Lavonia with their stack of cards.

"I’m originally from Bethlehem," said Wood, pointing out the house she grew up in near the post office.

"Christmas cards are a nice inexpensive thing to do to let people know you are thinking of them," said Czajkowski. "We’re hoping to process 200,000 pieces of mail this year."

Christmas mail is postmarked with a Flier canceler, a machine that is no longer used by the U.S. Postal Service. Bethlehem’s machine is more than 100 years old and is stored in Winder.

"There are old ones at the plant in Atlanta that we get parts for this one," said Czajkowski. "When they were phased out, an office gave this one to Bethlehem and we’ve been using it the past 40 years at Christmastime."

The machine is postal worker Kim Camp’s "baby," and she’d run all the Christmas mail through the machine herself if given the chance. Other outgoing mail is postmarked at the North Metro Processing and Distribution Center in Duluth.

Customers line up shoulder to shoulder to use the Wise Men stamp in the little building which houses 143 post office boxes in an area of maybe 60 square feet.

A separate room to conduct business with postal workers can accommodate about four people at a time.

For the past several years, rumors of a new post office have made the rounds and this year the federal government purchased 2.75 acres just down the road on Christmas Ave. (Ga. 11) to build a new facility.

In August, the Bethlehem Mayor and City Council were informed the post office had the funds for construction and were "ready to start."

Ken Welch, the architect/engineer for the Southeast Facilities Service Office, U.S. Postal Service said on Thursday that work should begin at the site shortly.

"We’re just waiting on the erosion control permit required by the DOT," said Welch.

The opening is anticipated to be September of 2009.

Bethlehem Mayor Sandy McNab said everyone was looking forward to the new post office.

"We’ve definitely needed it for a while," he said.

The new facility will be 5,100 square feet with a much bigger parking lot and will perhaps even have room to store the old Flier canceler.

"Although I would like a new one," admits the postmaster.



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