A woman writes because there was too many dogs barking in her Maryland neighborhood, an elderly gentleman hasn't received this month's Social Security check, a grade-school class requested a flag and hundreds of constituents want to know where their representatives stands on abortion and gun control.
These are among the 2,000 letters and phone calls that come into the office of Rep. Gladys Noon Spellman (D-Md.) every week.
"I get at least twice as much mail than congressmen, and as much as ten times more than many whose districts are not as close to Washington as mine," says Spellman, who lives in Laurel.
"People in the D.C. metropolitan area are very much aware of what is going on. They're also very much aware of all the implications and they don't hesitate to write and call when they have a complaint."
According to administrative assistant Gene Kennedy, all of Spellman's correspondence is answered within a week. Eveyone on the staff, from the administrative assistant to the college interns, answers the mail and each is responsible for particular areas or issues.
"We treat every phone call as a letter and everyone on the staff knows what they are responsible for," says Kennedy. "We answer and type all our own letters. There are no secretaries in the office."
Kennedy sorts and distributes the four daily mail deliveries himself. "The AA has to know what's coming in, what needs an immediate response and what needs to be brought to the congresswoman's attention," Kennedy says.
"Some offices don't have anyone to supervise the mail. Frankly, I think when one person is on top of everything it creates a more organized and efficient operation."
Kennedy dates all the letters as they come in, then assigns them to one of the nine Washington staff people to be answered. All the local casework goes to the district office in Hyattsville.
Spellman employs four people full-time, two part-time and has several volunteers in her Hyattsville office who handle all the local casework.
According to Marlene Kaufmann, the district casework coordinator, that office takes in approximately 1,000 calls and letters weekly, as well as what Kennedy sends over.
"Being local generates many calls and complaints that wouldn't ordinarily arise in a congression office," says Kaufmann.
"We get people calling because their street hasn't been plowed, or there are too many potholes and can we do anything. We even had a call from a lady who was upset because squirrels were eating the nuts in her front yard."
Both offices try to follow the policy of answering all the mail with personal responses because "that's the way Mrs. Spellman wants it."
But as in the case of all congressional offices, Spellman makes use of two automatic memory typewriters, and a computer that prints out set responses on particular issues.
"We try to get a high degree out automatically but it's hard because Mrs. Spellman will send letters back if she doesn't feel the questions have been answered," said Kennedy.
"She reads everything that goes out of here and she's extremely particular. Sometimes we feel we know exactly how she stands on a particular issue and she'll change the response in final form."
Spellman follows the unusual practice of signing all her own mail. In 1975, she sent back a $1,000 "autopen" machine - a mechanical device used by many congressmen who don't have the time to sign their own mail.
"I look at the mail as sort of window in my district," says Spellman. "I find it very important to read and sign all my own mail so I see what's really happening in the district."
According to Kennedy, priorities are given to emergency cases rather than legislative matters.
"Naturally, we're more concerned about the elderly couple who hasn't received their Social Security check, or the woman with eight kids who has no heat," he says.
All incoming mail and three copies of the response are kept on file in Spellman's office. Names and addresses of those who write in are computer coded so the office can send out followup responses on particular issues.
"If a particular issue or bill is coming up, we check with the computer for all those who have shown a special interest in the legislation," say legislative assistant Judy Manion. "That way constituents can find out any new developments without having to write again."
According to Marion, only the mail from Spellman's immediate district gets answered. Everything else is either forwarded to another congressman or filed.