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FAMILY OUTING : Behind the Scenes at the Post Office

March 10, 1994

So just how does that skinny little envelope with your child's birthday card (or your telephone bill), among millions of other skinny little envelopes, find its way to just the right place?

Your post office will be glad to show you and your family the whole works.

Terri Bouffiou, communication program specialist with the U.S. Post Office, suggests that you start with your local post office, where you can see the letters picked up and sent to the processing plants.

The two processing plants in the San Gabriel Valley also offer tours, but most of the action there is in the evenings, when mail from the local offices is sorted and sent on to regional offices all over the country and to foreign countries.

At the processing plants, you can see the machines that read the addresses on some envelopes and sort them automatically. Other letters go through a sorter machine. A worker will look at the ZIP code and key it into the machine, which sorts the letter into a pile going to the same place.

"You have to realize the average piece of mail, from when you drop it in the mailbox to delivery, will be handled 20-plus times," Bouffiou said.

To arrange a tour of your local office, call the postmaster. To tour a processing plant, call Bouffiou.

Families with children younger than 6 should not plan on going to a processing plant in the evening. "It wouldn't be appropriate for safety reasons," Bouffiou said. "During the day, it wouldn't be a problem."

Tours are scheduled on weekdays, and they are free. "It's not quite like Disneyland," Bouffiou said. "It's not nearly as exciting, and we don't let you ride on any of the equipment."

But it is an education.

The Details

What: Tours of postal facilities.

Where: Local post offices are everywhere. Nearby processing plants are at 15421 Gale Ave., City of Industry, and 600 Lincoln Ave., Pasadena.

When: Monday through Friday. There's more going on at a processing plant in the evening, but that time is not recommended for children younger than 6.

How much: Free.

More info: To tour a local office, call the postmaster. To tour a processing plant, call Terri Bouffiou, (213) 586-1717.

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