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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Abby Mackey

This postal worker is the community’s ‘ear to the street.’ The residents are repaying her with a wedding fund.

MT. LEBANON, Pennsylvania — Kara Marmo sat on the side porch of her Mt. Lebanon home shortly after her father died to spend a few moments remembering him when her mail carrier, Sarah Hill, yelled a cheerful hello.

As Marmo looked over, Hill could see she was crying and didn’t hesitate to lend an ear, involving herself when many would have abstained. “She just made me feel so much better, and she made me laugh because she has this contagious laugh,” Marmo said.

She snapped a picture of her friend and mail carrier that day and posted it to Facebook as a public thank-you.

In December, Marmo snapped another picture of Hill, 37, of Mt. Lebanon, this time one of her flashing a brand-new sparkling diamond on her left ring finger. By the end of the month, she had posted that picture on a GoFundMe page she started: “Help Sarah Buy the Wedding Dress of Her Dreams!” which was published to her community’s Facebook page.

“As much as we love her in her postal blues, we want to see her in a beautiful wedding dress,” Marmo said.

The effort raised more than $2,000 in less than two weeks. A ream of comments below the tally were full of love for Hill and excitement for her engagement — all because this mail carrier delivers far more than envelopes.

‘I’m not the only one who loves Sarah’

When the weather is warm, the residents of Mt. Lebanon’s Cedarhurst Manor neighborhood can hear Hill coming before they ever see her. Neighbors honk their horns as they drive by her. Laughter and muffled conversations echo through the streets.

“I walk a lot in the neighborhood so I’ll pass her, and she’ll recognize me and my husband and ask about the kids,” said Emily Byham, whose home used to be on Hill’s route. “She sees a gazillion people, and it makes me feel special to be thought of so fondly or remembered by someone who maybe only saw me in person once in a while.”

“When she comes down the street, she’s always smiling, always a friendly hello,” said another Cedarhurst Manor resident, Celene Goldtrap. “Obviously she has a lot to do, but she just finds a way to get to know all of the neighbors.”

When Goldtrap’s twin daughters received mail last fall that made plain they were starting high school, Ms. Hill stuck a Post-it note on the envelopes that read, “Have a great year, girls!” It was a gesture that really “stood out” to the Goldtrap family.

She knows kids and pets by name and will ask how people’s jobs are going. But her presence in that community is as much mascot as it is watchdog.

“I always say that I am a part of the community rather than I work in the community,” Hill said. “I put myself in their community, so I know when things are off rather than just working there.”

When an elderly woman neglected to pick up her mail for a few days and didn’t answer Hill’s knocks and hollers at the door, she placed a call to the police department for a wellness check.

And years ago, she saw something was amiss at Marmo’s father’s home, which was just around the corner. She got in touch with Marmo, who otherwise wouldn’t have known her father suffered a fall and was rushed to the hospital.

“That’s why we just love her,” Marmo said. “She goes out of her way. She really cares.”

‘You have empathy or you don’t’

Hill grew up in Ohioville, Beaver County, where everything was “really quaint.” There were no stoplights in the town at the time, though there might be one now, she said. She played sports and went to church on Sunday. Family dinner was always at 6 p.m.

She was always interested in how people think and started college as a psychology major. She couldn’t wrap her head around psychological theories, though, ones that presume people with certain characteristics will behave in predictable ways. “I questioned everything in class, and my adviser was like, ‘No, you’re not going to be a psychologist,’ ” she said.

A degree in criminology led to work as a therapeutic support staff, in a residential treatment facility and — after moving to Pittsburgh in 2010 — for Achieva, an organization that assists those with disabilities.

But Hill’s empathetic nature proved to be a liability in those settings. “Those things drain you of a life,” she said. “I felt for these children all day long.”

She applied to be a mail carrier thinking she’d never get the job, but she did in 2014. “It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done,” she said, but it allows her to connect with people the way she feels everyone ought to.

“I think we’ve come to this time in our lives where you have to give people grace,” she said. “People just aren’t kind anymore. They aren’t generous with their words. People are just so standoffish, and it’s weird. It’s a weird time.”

‘She wanted the dream’

Neighbors on Hill’s route know her, too.

They rode the waves of her dating life, sharing dismay at the “duds.” They tried to set her up repeatedly, including with the neighborhood’s FedEx delivery guy. They knew she “wanted the dream one day,” with a right man and a couple of kids, and they wanted to help her achieve it.

After her first date with now-fiancé Chris about a year ago, she gabbed with Marmo like any girlfriend would. “I remember seeing Kara next day and said, ‘I’m gonna marry him,’” Hill said.

On her birthday in December, Chris proposed.

When Marmo created the GoFundMe page and shared it to community pages on Facebook — the modern phone tree — the neighborhood responded in a big way.

Byham and her husband “didn’t even think about it” before donating. Goldtrap thought, “If she’s as friendly and sweet to everyone else as she is to us, this is going to blow up,” before making her donation. And it did, causing Marmo to increase the original $2,500 goal to $5,000.

Hill didn’t seem to fit a collegiate psychology program, but the residents of Cedarhurst Manor would argue she knows all she needs to about people, leading her to the life she dreamed of and a neighborhood cheering her on.

“You know how you have those out-of-body experiences where you don’t really think it’s you? That’s how it feels,” she said. “The plans I have for my life are laughable because when God wills something, it’ll blow your socks off.”

To view or donate the GoFundMe page for Sarah Hill, visit

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