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Neither snow nor rain nor anything over $20: some tips on holiday tipping

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A retired postmaster suggests leaving a tasty treat in the mailbox for your letter carrier, while some trash collectors prefer that any gifts be taped to the bottom of the trash can lid -- where they'll be hidden from poachers.
Kabir Bhatia
A retired postmaster suggests leaving a tasty treat in the mailbox for your letter carrier, while some trash collectors prefer that any gifts be taped to the bottom of the trash can lid -- where they'll be hidden from poachers.

‘Tis the season for holiday shopping as we choose just the right gifts for friends, family, and the service people who will be delivering our gifts this month and carting away the empty boxes next month.

During the holiday season, there are a few do’s and don’t’s when it comes to holiday tipping.

“Any federal or postal employee is prohibited from receiving monetary gifts.” That’s the advice of Mary Goubeaux – who was a Postmaster in the Dayton area until retiring a few years ago. Today she lives in South Carolina. I sought her out because her daughter is married to my brother, which makes us… family – and let’s leave it at that.

“You can accept a gift such as you know, a box of candy, baked goods, anything not to exceed $20,” Goubeaux said. But as to any odd gifts, "I actually cannot remember anything weird like that now. As managers, we would have a Christmas party for our employees, and then we would buy pizzas and have a carry-in on a different day.
"One of the things that I remember that we all loved to get -- and now that I'm in South Carolina, I can't get that down here -- was Esther Price, and it was really good chocolate. We had a customer that would bring a great big huge box... and then if you were a mail carrier clerk and somebody gave something like that to you, everybody loved getting [it], because it was just the best chocolate you've ever had."

What about a six-pack as a gift at holiday time? “I’ve never had that question. Probably not the best gift, but if you're not drinking it on the job, and you want to take it home, possibly it's okay?”

Aside from food, other good ideas include a scarf or a pair of gloves. “Gloves are great, but when you're a mail carrier there are certain kind of gloves that you need to wear because it's hard to handle the mail," Goubeaux said. "And a lot of times with the gloves, they'll cut the tips of the fingers out so they can actually finger through the letter mail before they deliver it."

There are a few other options worth considering.

“Another thing that's nice on a cold, snowy winter: in the past I've had people put out in their mailbox hot chocolate in a canister for you to drink.
"And in the summertime, [people] put a metal cylinder of cold ice water out there for you."

But in the end, Goubeaux said there's one thing that really counts. “More than what it is, it’s the thought that those customers appreciate that they’re there delivering their mail. So, I think that that is usually the most important thing to the carrier: the feel appreciated that somebody went to the trouble to thank them by getting them a Christmas gift.”

From delivering mail to collecting trash
Leaving the gifts in a mailbox works fine for postal employees, but what about giving gifts to the people who collect our trash and recycling?

“The best thing to do is to catch them one-on-one. You can catch them while they’re there and just hand it to them,” according to Phil Yacovazzi, owner of AA Sanitation. Since the trucks are moving fast, he says many customers will call him in advance to say they’ll be leaving a gift out.

“You could always leave it under your front door mat – an envelope or something.," Yacovazzi said. "Another idea I tell a lot of people is, tape it inside the lid – not on the lid, where it’s visibly seen easily enough – put it on the inside the of the lid. That way, when they open the lid, they’ll see it. The worst thing to do is to leave it exposed on the can. In years past, we have had to call the police on a father-son duo who were scalping tips off these cans. They know what time of year it is. There are people that, unfortunately, do that sort of thing.”

So, what’s a good gift for the crew that collects your trash and recycling? Yacovazzi has close to a dozen trucks out on any given day, covering hundreds of homes.

“If everybody just did a little bit – even did $5 per guy – that’s fantastic [and] the guys appreciate it. But I do have people who give $100 or $150, believe it or not.”

At that rate, a trash collector could really clean up – a pun very much intended. And what about the six-pack idea we mentioned earlier?

“Well, I mean, that's a rarity," Yacovazzi said. "A lot of people don't drink anymore. Everybody assumes, just because you haul trash, you're a drinker. That's not necessarily the case. After all, you don't really want it in the trucks. And my guys would just as soon get cash or go buy what they want to drink if they're drinkers.”

So, while cash is king -- and the sky’s the limit -- for garbage collectors, remember that postal employees can only accept up to $20 in gift cards or other goods – and never in cash. Different rules apply to teachers and dog walkers and baristas, of course, and once you’ve sorted that out, you can sit back and enjoy the holidays.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.