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Shipping out for the holidays

Patsy Hunter, store manager, helps a soldier near Christmas time at The UPS Store® location at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.

Closing time at The UPS Store® location at Fort Leonard Wood, a military base in the heart of the Missouri Ozarks, is often the busiest time of day – never more so than during the holiday season. A breathless young soldier will rush in when Patsy Hunter and her staff will be getting ready to shut the doors at 6 p.m. Inevitably, the soldier is holding gifts for a loved one who lives far away. Strict rules forbid bringing non-essential items back to the barracks, so Hunter says it's a no-brainer to stay open late and help a service member send a gift right away.

"We try to take care of our customers any way we can," says Hunter, who has managed the store since it opened in 2013. "They shop, then come in here and they ship." The Fort Leonard Wood location is unique, since the store is owned and operated by the Center for Human Services (CHS), a local nonprofit organization that helps people with disabilities lead fulfilling lives. That includes finding satisfying jobs, and several CHS clients are on staff at the Fort Leonard Wood UPS Store. "I have a great team," says Hunter.

Special services to military customers

Fort Leonard Wood is unique, too, since its primary mission is training soldiers in a variety of specialties; the base is home to the U.S. Army Engineer School and Military Police School, as well as training facilities for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear sciences. Some 80,000 to 90,000 service members and civilians pass through Fort Leonard Wood each year. In addition to using its shipping services, many trainees arrange to pick up mail and packages at The UPS Store during their stints at the base. "Those services caught on last year," says Hunter.

For Hunter and her staff, Fort Leonard Wood's special mission makes the holiday season even busier. In addition to holiday shipping, many soldiers complete their training in mid-December, then flock to The UPS Store to ship TVs, gaming systems and other personal property home or to their next assignment. Others come in to print out flight itineraries and road maps before they depart.

Wrapping up

Now and then, a soldier will arrive at The UPS Store with a holiday gift to be shipped, along with a roll of wrapping paper, some ribbon and a plea for help. "They tell us they can't wrap very well and ask us to take care of it for them," says Hunter, "and if they ask, I'm going to do it." (Hunter says her own gift-wrapping skills have improved markedly since she began working for UPS.)

Hunter, who spent 28 years as the manager of a store operated by an oil company before taking the reins at The UPS Store at Fort Leonard Wood, finds special joy in working with members of the military. "We treat them like family," says Hunter, "because they are away from their families, and many of them are so young." Moreover, she adds, service members are always grateful for good service. Hunter recalls an Army captain who came to the store after experiencing problems trying to ship a package elsewhere. "I come in here and you always solve my problems," the officer told Hunter. "You guys are the best."

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