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Small town struggles after losing their only post office

COVID-19-death-post-office usps
Posted at 6:06 PM, Jul 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-10 00:35:34-04

MUNDS PARK, AZ — It's a small town in Arizona that has suddenly, without notice, lost their only post office. This has created a big problem for the thousands of people, mostly senior citizens, who live in the summer getaway community of Munds Park, located 20 miles outside of Flagstaff.

Residents describe their community of Munds Park as "small town rural America." It is an area filled with log cabins and surrounded by the Coconino National Forest. The year-round population is about 700, but over the summer residents say their population explodes into the thousands with people from all over Arizona. Many are snow birds from other states heading to the beautiful area to get away from the heat.

Now the community that has only five restaurants, eight street lights, and no traffic lights has lost their only post office.

"My first reaction was, ‘oh boy we're in trouble now,’" said Munds Park resident Tom Hlusak.

He added that about nine days ago, many of them were shocked to head over to the post office to find the doors locked and notices up letting them know the post office was shuttered. The notices directed residents to drive 20 miles to Flagstaff to pick up their mail, and had a phone number residents could call to file complaints. There was no explanation of the sudden closure.

"We have hundreds and hundreds of residents in their 70s and 80s, even some in their 90s, that are having to drive on the I-17 North to Flagstaff, which is a 40 mile round trip, at a 75 mile an hour speed limit just to go to the post office," said Allison Tiffany, a resident of Munds Park.

Once they arrived at the post office in Flagstaff, Tiffany said the lines were incredibly long.

"And then, they're standing in line in 89 degree heat, in lines that are lasting from an hour to an hour and a half long, in a parking lot trying to social distance with their masks on because of COVID-19, but it's too hot so they have to take their masks off at times, " added Tiffany.

Just this afternoon, a woman fainted while waiting in that line. Munds Park residents called the situation unacceptable, and they are now pleading with the U.S. Postal Service to find better accommodations for some of our state's most vulnerable residents, as they try to figure out what is going on with their only post office.

Hlusak said he was seeing desperation and fear in his neighbors’ faces.

"We're having people come in and say, ‘what can I do, I've got bills to pay.’ Most of these people are not Internet savvy; they pay their bills by check, like we used to in the olden days," said Hlusak.

"Many of these residents are shuttered at home because of the COVID-19 situation. They don't go out. The post office has been their lifeline for medicine, supplies they are ordering, and now you're telling them to drive 40 miles and stand in an hour long line?" added Tiffany.

The Munds Park Community Church is stepping up to help by asking volunteers to act as couriers, and pick up their neighbor's mail. The Postal Service will allow one person to pick up six people's mail. For the last two days, hundreds of Munds Park residents have been lining up under tents placed outside the church to give consent for the post office to release their mail to someone else.

So far, about 12 volunteers had stepped up to help, but they desperately need more. Hlusak said it was heartbreaking to see his neighbors having to deal with all of this.

"It's heartbreaking because I'm seeing people driving in a car, coming up and walking in with walkers, with canes, some in a wheelchair or on oxygen and they're coming up with their masks on and social distancing and filling out the forms," he said.

United States Senator for Arizona Kyrsten Sinema's office is now looking into the situation. A letter from Sinema's office informed residents that a private contractor hired by U.S.P.S to run the post office suddenly quit without notice. The agency was trying to hire another contractor to take over the post office, but there was no time frame given on when that would happen.

Tiffany said they understand that, but they hoped the postal service would try to find a better way to get mail to hundreds of elderly residents, rather than forcing them to drive 40 miles only to stand in a long line, just so they could get their mail.