Post-a-Nut: Coconut Mail.
Just another nutty day in the Hoolehua post office.

Post-a-Nut: Coconut Mail

Field review by the editors.

Hoolehua, Molokai, Hawaii

Coconuts are an example of Nature's sometimes-sturdy packaging. Opening one usually requires a hammer or a coconut-size rock. Even the U.S. Postal Service, notorious for occasional package-bashing, has difficulty damaging a coconut -- so the idea of mailing one as its own self-contained parcel has been around for a while.

It took one little post office in Hawaii to turn it into a tourist attraction.

The Hoolehua post office is on Molokai, one of the Hawaiian islands, with a population of around 7,000. Until its Post-a-Nut service came along, Molokai was known to the outside world mostly for housing a historic colony of lepers.

Post-a-Nut: Coconut Mail.
Coconuts lurk within.

Postmaster Margaret Keahi-Leary invented Post-a-Nut in 1991; postmaster Gary Lam has been in charge since 2005. "It was a small part of this post office when I took the job," said Gary -- but that changed during the Post Office purges of 2009-2011. "Upper management came and told me that this post office was going to be downgraded and the hours were going to be cut," Gary said. "So we started pushing the coconuts."

It worked. "Now we send out over 3,000 a year," Gary said. "They're 40 percent of my revenue. And the office actually got upgraded; I now have a bigger complement of workers. It all came out pretty well."

Teri Waros owns a book store in Kaunakakai, across the island from the post office, and paints coconuts for people who don't want to decorate their own. "Gary's a federal employee; he can't sell services," she said. Although Teri makes money from her work, she'd rather have everyone visit Gary's post office to decorate the coconuts themselves. "I tell them the best part is coming here and doing their own," she said.

Teri Waros turns coconuts into postal artworks.
Teri Waros turns coconuts into postal artworks.

"People look at me, like, 'Are you crazy, lady?' But when you explain it, they're like, 'Ohhhhh.' And they have a blast."

The coconuts and art supplies are free. The only part of Post-a-Nut that costs money is the shipping, which ranges from $13 to $20 depending on the coconut size and destination.

Gary is never short of Post-a-Nut raw material. "Our neighbors bring in coconuts from their yards. I bring some from my house," he said. "Coconuts are a fairly large part of my existence at this point."

Post-a-Nut: Coconut Mail.
Coconut weigh-in. In the foreground: communal art supplies for Post-a-Nut customers.

Potential Post-a-Nuts are piled in plastic bins on the floor of the post office. Sharpies fill a countertop tray, stained with countless test marks. You choose a coconut, decorate it however you like, and add the address with a permanent marker. Gary weighs the coconut and affixes postage and an agricultural inspection stamp, verifying that the nut is free of leaks and bugs. "I needed to get certification to inspect coconuts," said Gary.

Postmaster Gary Lam and a couple of mail-ready nuts.
Postmaster Gary Lam and a couple of mail-ready Post-a-Nuts.

The postage is as varied as the artwork, a smorgasbord of stamps chosen by Gary for their colorful designs. "I get to be like a little kid," he said, "pasting stickers all over everything."

Teri suggests picking a coconut with smooth sides for the artwork and address, and one as lightweight as possible. "When people tell me, 'I want one with the juice in it,' I say, 'Why? Who's gonna open it? Pick a light one. Postage is based on weight.'"

Delivery can take up to two weeks, particularly to remote destinations such as the South Pole and Easter Island, which both have received their share of Post-a-Nuts.

The Hoolehua post office is on the west side of the island, where there's no home mail delivery. "Everybody has to come to the post office to pick up their mail," said Teri. "That's the best part. The 20 or 30 minutes you spend in the post office painting your coconut, you get to meet everyone."

Teri also said that the Hoolehua post office serves most of Molokai's senior citizens, who would otherwise need to trek cross-island to the post office in Kaunakakai. "Those elders depend on Gary's post office." she said. "He's got the biggest heart in the world. He should be named the Number One federal employee in the United States."

If nothing else, Post-a-Nut has shown the global appeal of receiving a coconut in the mail, and it's given "going postal" a pleasant connotation. "In most post offices you deal with mundane things, or the kind of mail that people don't want," said Gary. "Here, people come in to do something that makes them happy."

Post-a-Nut: Coconut Mail

Address:
69-2 Puupeelua Ave., Hoolehua, Molokai, HI
Directions:
The post office is on the west side of Route 481/Puupeelua Ave., just south of its intersection with Route 480/Farrington Ave.
Hours:
M-F 8:30-12, 12:30-4 (Call to verify)
Phone:
808-567-6144
Admission:
Postage $13-$20
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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November 21, 2018

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