Campus & Community

Harvard University Mail Services delivers

3 min read

Neither rain nor snow nor decentralization nor mysterious acronyms…

At their Western Avenue headquarters, mail clerks Frank Pisanom (left) and Brian Askew sort mail.
Truck driver and muscleman Dan Brainard hauls some mail down a ramp at Holyoke Center, which is the destination of Brainard¹s epistles.

A quarter of the mail delivered to Cambridge’s 02138 ZIP code is Harvard-bound. And of that, 77 percent goes through Harvard University Mail Services (HUMS), where a relatively lean operation of staff and students shepherds it to its final destinations.

“We deliver mail. That’s what we do,” explains Ursula Moore, manager of University Mail Services. Far and away the largest of Harvard’s decentralized mail delivery facilities, HUMS handles 15 million pieces of incoming, outgoing, and interoffice mail each year.

A quick tour of HUMS facilities, located in Allston, reveals that there’s more to the service than simple mail delivery. Staying abreast of changing technology and United States Postal Service requirements keeps Moore and her staff – which includes 30 student workers – on their toes, as does the need to remain vigilant about mail security. During the anthrax scare of two years ago, HUMS had all suspicious mail “cooked” by steam heat, a method that would kill the virus. “That turned out, fortunately, to have been prudent but not necessary in that instance,” says Moore.

Aesthetically placed between the symmetrical frame of two mail trucks, Gannon is in the process of loading the mail he will soon deliver. HUMS handles 15 million pieces of incoming, outgoing, and interoffice mail each year.

Then there’s the “mystery mail” – several tubs each week addressed simply to “Harvard University” – that multilingual handlers are authorized to open and reroute. Plenty of it goes to the offices of admissions or development, says Moore, but “it could be a letter saying ‘I’m God.’”

Undaunted by the sheer volume of the mail, HUMS is a well-oiled machine that brings students and staff together to deliver each postcard, letter, or even junk mail flier to its intended recipient. Two trucks pull in and out of a loading dock all day, shuttling mail from the Central Square Post Office and to various locations around campus. HUMS handles all of the University’s interoffice mail, which staff and student workers sort into 170 mailboxes. “We do it manually because we use Harvard students and they are very bright,” says Moore, adding that students can correctly route mail to a building, department, or street address far better than any mechanical substitute. “We know hundreds of acronyms,” she boasts.

Moore, a 20-year veteran of HUMS, lauds sorting and delivering mail as “one of the most interesting parts of Harvard.” HUMS links Harvard to the outside world as well as to itself. “We bind Harvard together,” says Moore, “because we go everywhere.”

In a mysterious-looking operation, truck driver Bill Gannon pulls a load of mail behind a plastic veil before delivering it to the greater Harvard community.

stuffed mailboxes