Parking officers help pandemic mail find spaces
Todd Miller had to get used to people gladly accepting what he was handing out during the early months of the pandemic.
“It felt really good to be able to help out,” said Miller, a Virginia Tech Parking Services enforcement officer who helped with mail delivery during the spring and summer months. “We knew they were overwhelmed and I felt we helped them accomplish their mission at a crucial time.”
Miller was one of about 10 employees from the parking enforcement team who lent a hand to other Virginia Tech departments when the university moved to mostly remote work and campus traffic drastically slowed down last spring. Working alongside employees from other areas, the enforcement officers delivered packages across campus, rearranged classrooms for increased physically distancing, and even helped host outdoor graduation ceremonies for four local high schools.
“To be parking officers, you really have to have a sense of purpose because it’s not an easy job to do something many people perceive as negative,” said Jeri Baker, senior director of Virginia Tech Transportation Services. “Our employees look at their job as being an ambassador to this campus. They may issue a citation to someone, but they’re doing so to protect spaces that someone else paid for. So, when they were given the opportunity to positively impact the university and help meet its mission, it was just second nature to them.”
The Parking Services enforcement team is just one of many groups and individuals across the Virginia Tech community whose work was recognized by their colleagues as a part of Hokie Highlights.
While many university operations were able to be scaled back due in an effort to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the mail never stopped flowing and Mail Services employees never stopped showing up.
“These folks know they’re essential employees,” said Steve Vantine, interim director of mail services. “Some of them have been here 25, 35 years, so they know that’s the job and they just showed up every day. That’s just what they do.”
The primary challenge for those workers came as the result of the majority of buildings on campus being locked. Not being able to get inside, commercial delivery drivers began dropping off departmental packages in a centralized location and distribution was added to Mail Services’ already heavy workload.
“It had a large impact on our operation because you had to balance this with the normal deliveries and also get access to the buildings. We just ran out of folks to handle it all,” Vantine said. “We literally needed people’s arms, legs, and muscles to help deliver.”
Added to the situation was the challenge of mitigating any potential spread of the virus. The additional workers expanded the delivery workforce to about 25 people, which allowed for them to work in two separate shifts and prevent an outbreak that might shutdown the entire operation.
“We needed those extra bodies to make sure we kept people separated and segregated into those shifts, and as well as to make sure we weren’t burning out our regular employees,” Vantine said.
With about 600 packages arriving each week, Mail Services employees worked alongside security personnel to access buildings for mail distribution about twice weekly. For Miller, this provided a much-desired opportunity to get back out on campus.
“It felt great. I really don’t like being cooped up in the house,” Miller said. “We would take two mail trucks and ride around with the police department. It was a caravan.”
Baker said that feeling was very common among the employees whose regular day-to-day jobs couldn’t be replicated remotely.
“The majority of the employees I oversee have the types of jobs that you can’t do from home,” Baker said. “You can’t engage with the campus community around parking enforcement from home.”
Baker said she felt it was her responsibility to continue to find ways for her employees to help out to ensure both the university and individual’s needs were met. For Kyle Kruger, a ticket adjudicator with parking services, saying no to such opportunities was never an option.
“It never crossed my mind, honestly,” Kruger said. “They just asked for volunteers, and I was just like absolutely. I don’t have to sit inside all day? That’s great.”
Kruger particularly remembered getting quite a bit of outside time when parking services helped the university host outdoor graduation ceremonies for all four public high schools in Montgomery County in a single day.
“I think that was like a 12-hour day out there baking in the sun,” Kruger said. “But it was pretty rewarding to do. I know those kids were so happy that they still go to walk across the stage in front of their families, and that’s the most important thing.”
— Written by Travis Williams