A trip to the post office is often a task that most people want to check off their to-do lists as quickly as possible, but at the Hoolehua Post Office on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, it’s not uncommon for customers to linger.
“People will often stay here for hours,” says Hoolehua Postmaster Roxann Tancayo, who grew up on the island and worked for the United States Postal Service for 21 years before becoming postmaster a year ago.
And they have good reason to stick around. Every morning Tancayo stocks the post office with freshly fallen coconuts, which she gathers from nearby palm groves. She piles her haul in plastic USPS tubs, and sets out another tub stocked with an assortment of permanent markers for decorating the coconuts. The coconuts are free, all customers have to do is pay for shipping and the USPS will mail their decorated coconuts to addresses around the world.
“Rather than mail a postcard during their vacation,” Tancayo says, “a lot of visitors will send a coconut instead.”
Coconut mailing is part of the Hoolehua Post Office’s Post-a-Nut program, a service that’s unique to this post office. The program began in 1991, when former postmaster Margaret Keahi-Leary wanted a “way for residents and visitors to send an unusual, authentic bit of Molokai to their friends,” according to a USPS blog post written about it.
“She and her husband would collect coconuts around the island and offer them for free to customers,” Tancayo says. “Today I have locals who will bring in coconuts that have fallen from trees on their property and donate them.”
On average, the Hoolehua Post Office mails out 3,000 coconuts each year. In the 28 years since the program began, that amounts to tens of thousands of coconuts shipped to all corners of the world, except for Australia and New Zealand, whose governments have strict regulations on allowing foreign produce into their countries, says Tancayo. (When the program began, the post office shipped to U.S. destinations only, but later expanded.)
To abide by its own guidelines, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has given Tancayo certification to be an official inspector, which involves examining each coconut to make sure that it’s safe to send via mail.
“I’m usually just looking for holes, which could mean a bug is burrowed inside,” she says, “or any growth that’s sprouting out of the coconut.”
Once the inspection is complete, each coconut receives an official USDA stamp confirming that it has been inspected, along with an address and a return address. Tancayo and her staff will often decorate coconuts with a colorful array of postage stamps to give them some flair and to compliment the artwork drawn by senders. The cost to ship a coconut varies, but most customers can expect to spend between $12 and $20 in postage per coconut.
That’s a small price to pay to send a little bit of aloha across the world.