Postcards from children to much missed grandparents, covered in drawings of flowers and of families holding hands under a bright yellow sun, are some of the special deliveries postman Anthony Buckley makes to the isolating every day.
“We’re the only point of contact between families at the moment. And the coronavirus is bringing back the tradition of people writing to each other again, which was gone,” he said.
An Post delivered some 5,000,000 postage-paid cards to households across the country to encourage people to keep in contact throughout the Covid-19 lockdown, and these cards are being put to good use, Mr Buckley said.
“A lot of younger people never wrote a postcard before so they’re just discovering it. Children really, really miss their grandparents and they’re using the cards to write to them.
“You can’t help read them as you go along. They say, ‘we miss you so much, keep well! We’ll meet again soon and we’ll have a party!’”
Mr Buckley has never been busier at work, delivering Christmas levels of post and managing his expanded role of a type of stand-in social worker, checking on the cocooning vulnerable on his route and delivering food parcels to families.
“Online ordering is at Christmas proportions. It’s so busy with parcels.
“And we’re doing a lot of extra work. We’re calling into people who may be cocooning or whose family can’t visit to check on them.”
Last Monday, An Post introduced Request a Check-In which allows families to request the local postman or postwoman to check on a cocooning older or vulnerable person.
Family can register for the free service by completing the postal address and eircode of the customer at anpost.com/Community-Support.
And if the customer has any specific needs for groceries or a prescription, the postperson puts them in touch with the charity Alone.
“Every morning our foreman tells us who we need to check on that day,” Mr Buckley said. “We call to those people, see who they are, talk to them through the window and take their letters if they want to post something.
“We have a phone in our scanner that we scan mail with, so if someone needs extra support, we call Alone for them.
“It’s nice,” Mr Buckley said.
An Post has also stepped up to deliver food parcels to families who would usually receive school lunches.
“We delivered 500 food parcels across the north side of the city this week. It’s a really good thing.
“We bring food parcels to people who normally get lunches at school so people are still getting the food they usually get in school. It gives some normality.”
Mr Buckley said that the crisis has revealed how important public, community-based services really are to people.
“You get to know people on your route. Before there was a coalman, a milkman, a bread man, that’s all gone.
“So we’re the only ones people meet every day now.
“I know people’s names, you know where they live, you know if someone’s not home, so you build up trust with a person on your route. Familiarity is very good. People have a trust in you, they’ll confide in you. It’s fantastic.”
But despite the increased sense of community, the mood has changed on the streets and a sense of fear is often palpable since the Covid-19 outbreak, Mr Buckley said.
“Before, people would nearly touch your nose they’d get so close, but now people stand nearly four feet away, it’s like the plague.
“Most people will still talk to you but if a stranger is walking towards you they’d often cross the street to keep away.
“There’s no traffic in the mornings and there are not that many people on the streets. In the morning I’m mostly on my own out there.
“We stagger our shifts now so that we don’t all come in at the same time. We used to all start at 6am, but now I come in at 5.30am and others come in later. My route is Sunday’s Well and Blarney St in the north side of the city.
“Some houses have 50 or 60 steps up to them. Those steps would keep you fit,” he said with a smile.