Duke Spotlight: Campus Mail Services Delivers An Annual 4 Million Envelopes and 155,000 Packages

Essential items including mail and packages are delivered by Campus Mail Services

The Duke Campus Mail Services package processing warehouse on Hillsborough Road in Durham. Photo by Jack Frederick.
Mail services specialist Michael Knight brings by afternoon packages to the Duke Campus Mail warehouse from the United States Postal Service. Photo by Jack Frederick.

Number of employees: 18. Among the staff, Campus Mail Services has 300 years of experience handling, sorting and delivering mail. Several employees have worked at Duke between 30 and 40 years. The unit has also employed students through a Federal Work Study program for four years.

What they do: From work documents to medications, athletic equipment and dorm room necessities, essential items including mail and packages are delivered by Campus Mail Services.

Out of the Central Mail Hub, a warehouse off campus, the department handles all incoming and outgoing mail for two unique zip codes – 27708 and 27710. These zip codes encompass the university, medical campuses and some clinical and office spaces in downtown Durham.

While college campuses across the country, particularly private institutions, operate some sort of campus mail system, the combination of separate East and West campuses and a Duke University Hospital make Duke’s unit unique. Duke Campus Mail Services has a large and diverse coverage area and responsibilities to protect student and patient privacy.

Mail services specialist Al Burton sorts mail at the Duke Campus Mail warehouse. Photo by Jack Frederick.

Team members receive, sort and deliver 3 to 4 million pieces of U.S. mail, approximately 155,000 packages and 80,000 pieces of inter-office mail annually. Campus Mail Services also offers postage and stamps for all outgoing campus mail, which is charged to individual units and departments by fund code. Campus Mail Services provides monthly postage expenditures to internal departments through an automated billing system.

“We’re the bloodline of the University, as far as packages and mail,” De La Garza said.

How they work: When items arrive around 7 a.m. daily at the Campus Mail Processing Center on Hillsborough Road in Durham, each envelope is scanned and sorted by hand by team members into plastic cubbies that designate parts of campus into color-coded zones.

Packages are also tracked and organized into wheeled cages on the floor for distribution on delivery routes.

After items are sorted, mail service specialists load them on a truck and deliver to campus. Student mail goes to the Bryan Center to be placed in 7,000 mailboxes; all health system mail is delivered to the Health Mailbox Center in Duke South; All other items are delivered to central locations in buildings across campus, streamlining delivery and expediting mail and package delivery by centralizing mail distribution in the lobby.

Generally, from there, staff assistants, business managers and staff and faculty pick up mail from the area and bring it to their department or unit. Packages are loaded up onto metal cages and brought to West Campus for pickup.

Brent Woods processes packages at the Duke Campus Mail Services warehouse on Hillsborough Road. Photo by Jack Frederick.

Fun Fact: Duke Campus Mail Services is busiest during student move-in, which begins on Aug. 19 for new students on East Campus.

During move-in last year, campus mail received and delivered approximately 50,000 packages. A similar number is expected this year, not including thousands of daily pieces of mail for staff and faculty across the University and Health System.

“It’s pretty amazing to see how much comes through here,” said Brent Woods, a seven-year staff member who collaborates with colleague David Santos to process all packages brought to campus. “Just the two of us, we get it out.”  

Significant achievement: Campus Mail Services found innovative ways to continue delivering mail throughout the pandemic.

Especially in the early months surrounding March 2020, De La Garza worked closely with colleagues in the National Association of College and University Mail Services at places like Vanderbilt University, Oklahoma University and the University of South Carolina to find answers to questions they’d never encountered before.

For example, one problem that arose at Duke was how to store department mail once most staff and faculty started working remotely from home. Holding as much as 21 tubs of mail for a single department, De La Garza and his team came up with the idea of having people drive up to the warehouse, open their trunk and have mail handed off without any contact.

“That was a collaboration we did as a team to better serve our customers,” De La Garza said. “It was like Olive Garden curb service, where you just come by daily or weekly. We learned if we can pick up food at restaurants, we can pick up mail. It worked.”

The universal parcel lockers at the Bryan Center. Photo by Jack Frederick.

Big goal: Over the past two years, Campus Mail Services has introduced universal package lockers and Amazon pickup lockers to central locations on East and West Campus to streamline package pick-up.

While the process remains in the works, this fall campus will have 470 lockers for campus pickup. Eventually, De La Garza hopes to increase that to 760.

“It’s going to bypass the lines, the package staging and all that because we’re logging it in here and delivering it straight to the boxes,” De La Garza said. “You’re going from touching 10 hands (five people) to just four (two people).”

Have a suggestion for a Duke Spotlight? Let us know here.

Follow Working@Duke on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.