WEB-ONLY: Post office cracks down on charitable displays

The Sandy Community Action Center was in a state of collective shock last week as it learned that for the first time in more than a decade, the Sandy Post Office would not set up the 'giving tree,' which had connected many citizens with the needs of the children in the community.

According to Gail Gannon, a recently retired Sandy Post Office employee, a representative from the Portland regional office of the U.S. Postal Service saw the giving tree last December and said it was in violation of postal regulations.

The tree had tags on it, each with the names and ages of local children. Postal patrons would select a tag from the tree and would buy the toy for the child.

'That's going to hurt us,' said Rita Ezard, director of the Community Action Center, who noted that the tree helped 175 low-income and homeless children out of the 600 the center tries to help each year. 'We have stuff left over from last year, but it's not enough to cover all those kids who won't be getting presents.'

The Salvation Army bell-ringers were also prohibited from the Sandy Post Office in the last several years, Gannon said.

Kerry Jeffrey, customer relations coordinator for the U.S Post Office's Portland district, said the prohibition of the giving tree is a nationwide decision not to endorse certain charities.

'It's not a question about any one specific charity,' Jeffrey said. 'The fact is, we can't make the distinction of letting one group in and not another. If we let one group in, then we have to allow every group in.'

For years, Jeffrey said, the Sandy Post Office was operating outside the protocol of the postal service by setting up the Action Center's giving tree.

'Sometimes, in an effort to connect to the local community, (postmasters) have allowed things to take place in the lobby that are, strictly speaking, not according to postal policy,' Jeffrey said. 'Most of the time unless there's a problem or a complaint they'll continue on.'

'It's very tough,' Jeffrey continued, 'especially in small communities where there are not many focal places in the community for something like this. But the thing about post offices is that they exist strictly for postal business.'

A tree itself isn't outright prohibited, Jeffrey said. Neither are wreaths, bells or the hand-painted mailbox for letters to Santa. But there is a push in the postal service for a more standardized look.

'The mood in the post office is that we want to be an upbeat, professional-looking retail establishment,' Jeffrey said. 'It's less about the traditional holiday and more about a professional retail environment.'

As for the postal service's rules against supporting individual charities, Ezard said, 'Helping others is why this country was founded. The Statue of Liberty says it all: Bring us your hungry, your poor. That's what we're supposed to be doing, but it's getting harder and harder to do that.'

Despite the setback, the Action Center isn't without backup. As it has for many years, Sandy High School will have a giving tree. Additional giving trees also may appear at WyEast Optics and The Sandy Post newsroom. Call 503-668-4746 to help or learn more about the program.

All in all, Ezard says she's confident the community will step up and donate toys for children. 'It will (pan out),' she said. 'It just gets a little more creative every year.'

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