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Rush to deliver Christmas cards and packages is on as post offices add Sunday hours

Here's when you need to send those Christmas packages to make sure they're under the tree in time.

When Nina Hetzner stopped at the post office near her Ellicott City home Saturday afternoon, the parking lot was packed. By the time she got inside, it was too late. They were closing.

But she was surprised when a postal worker said, "come back tomorrow." She joined a trickle of customers carrying boxes and envelopes Sunday afternoon when she returned with a box overflowing with a pair of boots adorned with flowers and other hand-me-down clothes for her niece in San Diego.

Some post offices opened for four hours Sunday as the U.S. Postal Service readies for the holiday rush — it predicts Monday will be its busiest day in a season in which it could handle 11 percent more packages than it did during last year's holiday stretch. With deadlines approaching for items to be delivered by Christmas, many post offices will open again next Sunday, too.

"The service is really great because Monday through Friday I can't make it," Woodlawn resident Sonia Barkley said after dropping a gift for her daughter in Arizona off at the Windsor Mill post office. "And Saturday you end up oversleeping."

Postal service officials said they expect to deliver 600 million packages between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve, 10.5 percent more than the agency handled during the 2014 holiday season. They expect to deliver 15.5 billion cards, letters and packages altogether.

Several packages containing Nintendo DS devices and games to go with them will be among them, sent from Ellicott City resident Asher Dewhurst to buyers on eBay, the online auctioneer. His two children no longer played the games, so Dewhurst turned to eBay to help finance the kids' next Christmas presents.

"It's all about 300 bucks," he said. "It's all going into Christmas money."

Matthew Cervi and his son Will walked into the Ellicott City post office each carrying boxes stacked to their chins, full of peppermint bark and shortbread cookies being sent to family in North Carolina, Florida and elsewhere. But they didn't even know the post office had special hours — they were just dropping off the parcels, which were already labeled and paid for.

"I will not be getting in that line," Matthew Cervi said.

For first-class mail, items must be dropped off at the post office or mailboxes by Saturday for guaranteed arrival by Christmas, postal officials said. For Priority Mail, one- to three-day shipping that costs at least $5 for a letter or $11 for a medium-sized box, customers have until Dec. 21. Items being overnighted via Priority Mail Express, at least $18 for an envelope and $45 for a box, must be sent by Dec. 23.

Post offices that will open Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. include those in Nottingham, Halethorpe, Windsor Mill, Columbia, Ellicott City, Owings Mills, Westminster, Bel Air and Glen Burnie and the downtown Baltimore post office at 900 E. Fayette St.

Friday is the last day to ship Christmas packages via UPS 3 Day Select. UPS 2nd Day Air packages must be picked up or dropped off by Dec. 22, and UPS Next Day Air packages must be shipped by Dec. 23.

FedEx Ground packages must be shipped by Wednesday for guaranteed delivery by Christmas. Otherwise, customers can use FedEx Express Saver through Dec. 21 or various two-day and overnight delivery options by Dec. 22 and 23, respectively.

sdance@baltsun.com

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