Long lines and a major backlog of packages waiting for delivery — that has been the main story at Island post offices this summer as harried postal workers scramble to keep up with unprecedented demand.

And equally harried customers wait.

With the demand for online shopping skyrocketing, post offices have been strained beyond their maximum capacity this summer.

The Vineyard Haven post office, a main hub for parcel delivery, is seeing a 50 per cent increase in packages daily this summer compared to last summer, U.S. Postal Service spokesman Steve Doherty told the Gazette by phone.

The Vineyard Haven facility exceeded its capacity just after the Fourth of July, prompting postal authorities to put up overflow tents in the receiving so employees could process and sort packages in the shade.

“They needed someplace safe to work out of the sun,” Mr. Doherty said.

According to Mr. Doherty, this is the first time the Vineyard Haven post office has had to take such extreme measures to meet the demand of incoming mail. “The issue is with the coronavirus and all the brick and mortar stores being closed for as long as they were. People still need day-to-day supplies, so everyone is ordering everything online. We’re looking at parcel volumes that exceed what we typically see around Christmastime,” Mr. Doherty said.

The result has been longer-than-normal wait times at the post office, along with the requirement to socially distance in line, meaning sometimes the lines stretch outdoors due to building occupancy restrictions.

Vineyard Haven resident Diane Demitri said at times she has waited close to two hours to pick up a package this summer. “The lines take forever. It’s very hard. They need help, but it is what it is,” she said. But she also said lines stretching out the door are for the best.

“This is going to pass. It’s what we have to do. We’re all protecting each other,” Ms. Demitri said

Roberta Kirn said she tried having her packages sent to a friend in Boston and retrieving them there.

“It’s a shame because the people in there [the post office] are lovely and they’re working hard but it’s a disaster,” Ms. Kirn said.

Starting last weekend, post offices on the Island began offering expanded weekend hours for package pickup. Mr. Doherty said the expanded hours have been a help and will continue for the foreseeable future or until the volume of packages begins to level out.

On Friday afternoon and Saturday morning at the Vineyard Haven post office the line for package pickup did not extend out of the building for the first time in weeks.

Kandace Meade, an Oak Bluffs resident who gets her mail in Vineyard Haven, said she comes to the post office once a week and aside from a mixup with a UPS delivery, she reported that “things have been good.”

Meanwhile, the Vineyard Haven Post Office has not yet named a new postmaster after Debra Chickering retired on July 3. Ms. Chickering was the postmaster in Vineyard Haven for seven years after holding the same position in Edgartown for 18 years. Currently, Jack Thompkins is the acting postmaster in Vineyard Haven while the search for a permanent postmaster continues, Mr. Doherty said.